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Ann Austin: United Way gets new home and partners up

Live United by Ann Austin

Ann Austin is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.

There comes a time in every organization’s life when a big change happens — something we don’t necessarily foresee, but a change that ends up making complete sense.

As you are reading this, our United Way will have moved locations! The change is small, just across the street from our old location in the U.S. Bank building. Our actual address is even more amusing — changing from 341 S. Broadway Ave. to 314 S. Broadway Ave. Our mail used to be delivered to the new address by accident over the years. It’s almost as though this move was destined to be.

Ann Austin

Ann Austin

It is a significant move in so many ways because we are sharing space with several other nonprofits, including Senior Resources, the Community Resource Center, Blue Zones leadership team and Habitat for Humanity. Several others are also considering a space in the location.

We have been so fortunate to work with City Manager Chad Adams and Interim Recreation Director Bob Furland on the transition, as well as Mike Johnson of Innovative IT Solutions — they have been open-minded and helpful about how we are able to best use the space.

Local nonprofits have talked for years about sharing space — not only to save on costs, but to increase opportunities to partner together in meaningful ways and better serve the community. Ideally, everyone would be under the same roof, or in the same area of town — Catholic Charities, Cedar Valley Services, Community Mentor Connection, Parenting Resource Center, Semcac, The Arc of Freeborn County, The Salvation Army and even The Family Y, The Children’s Center and Workforce Development Inc. — though they need much larger facilities than the rest of us.

We are thankful the Crime Victim’s Crisis Center is right across the street in the Government Center — along with many other helpful programs like Public Health, which is an excellent community partner for many area nonprofits.

Our ultimate goal is for people to receive information and assistance in a timely manner while setting goals to improve their lives in meaningful ways.

One of the methods to reach this goal is utilizing technology in a more effective manner. Through several grants, both local and federal, we are able to invest in the MPOWR system (www.mpowr.com/), which will serve as a tool for referrals and help local programs assess how effective services have been for individuals, whether they have been able to receive help or need follow- up, and map out a means to address any gaps that exist in our system.

Another goal in this new location is to build on the success the Community Resource Center has recognized with serving our Karen community and continue to expand services and opportunities to more community members.

We have already provided education about homeownership and connecting to local programs, and plan to expand offerings over the next year to address what community members are seeking assistance with.

There are other opportunities to engage in, such as addressing housing and transportation needs for community members. As we work in partnership together, we are able to gain recognition and are more likely to receive grants and other support to turn dreams into reality.

The space is also an ideal venue for more community voices to be heard, as well as providing support for local initiatives to begin or to grow stronger.

We are planning to continue the work that Blandin started through its Leaders Partnering to End Poverty initiative (2014-2015) and do regular “community conversations” at the space, focused on specific questions community members can engage in that will help feed local problem-solving efforts.

Other opportunities exist for greater outreach to families, such as a partnership that began with the Parenting Resource Center (which offices out of the Community Resource Center several times a week), local businesses and community members. Currently, they are providing diapers, formula and other needs for new families on an as-needed basis. There are discussions underway to expand offerings, as the community responds.

I am reminded of a quote I have always loved by Aesop (I believe it was along with “The Lion and the Mouse” fable): “The level of our success is limited only by our imagination and no act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.”

As we gather together in common mission with a common vision, we will continue to find resolution.

Join in! We’ll save a place for you.