Live United: United Way campaign is more important than ever this year

Published 8:45 pm Saturday, September 25, 2021

Live United by Erin Haag

This afternoon, Nikolle came into my office to tell me about a conversation she just had with a case worker for a client we’re familiar with. It’s something I’m proud of — that United Way and the individual staff members have built these relationships, have provided support for the case workers and social workers working so hard in our community.

Erin Haag

This client does not speak English. There are many barriers for this woman and her family, which go far beyond learning English. We’ve known that food security has been an issue. Through a translator on the phone, the client shared that she went to pick up her food, but she only got bread and sweets. Immediately, Nikolle knew what was happening. There are two different doors — and one door is where the racks of bread and baked goods are. The second door is where you stop to pick up the box of food. Because of the language barrier, this client didn’t realize that wasn’t all the food being offered. She didn’t know to walk down to the other door to pick up the box. Can you imagine? How heartbreaking to be told that you can go get food — and to think that bread is all that is being offered. How could the experience be different? Why did no one realize that she was confused and left without food? I know the set-up and process as well, and it’s not something I would have thought would be confusing, even with the barrier of language. But it is, and it caused someone not to get the food they need.

This right here is why I’m passionate about having United Way advocate for better accessibility in our services. Please know I’m not calling anyone out or placing blame on this situation. We’re so used to seeing the work we’ve done in our own houses (aka our own organizations) it’s not always easy to see how it’s confusing.

On that note, the work I’ve been talking about the last two weeks has gone live on our website. Our grant cycle was announced last Friday, and is available on our website:

Now, grant applicants have to create an account, so not everyone is going to be able to see those questions. That’s to protect financial information that’s being uploaded, and to help them save their work. If you’re not an applicant, but still are interested, just let our office know and we’d be glad to assist you. We believe in transparency. OK, so we’ve got the grant application. We’ve got shared outcomes, which I hope will have a longer list as community programs provide feedback and contribute to it. Those can be viewed at No account needed, but if you don’t have access, again, give our office a call. I don’t mind mailing out a few copies. That whole transparency thing again plus accessibility. That’s right — UWFC is holding itself to the same standards that we’re asking of others.

Circling back to today’s client story and why this is an example of our why. When our Community Investment Committee sits down to review grants in a few weeks, they’ll be given a rubric to help score the applications. There are four categories. They are: Highest Localized impact, Equity/Ease of Access, Collaboration/Best Practices and Financial Accountability/Shared Outcomes. Today’s story is straight out of Best Practices and Ease of Access.

Does it mean that the Community Investment Committee wouldn’t fund if these criteria aren’t met? No. It’s holding programs to be accountable — to have a plan to make an assessment, to see areas where improvement can be made and to have a plan to do better. It’s hopeful that the questions on the grant application will inspire programs to consider their work in new ways.

Already, there are two new programs that have applied for United Way Funding. They have a long-standing history in Freeborn County, but haven’t applied before. This is equally exciting and terrifying to me. Our campaign is more important than ever this year. I want to build our list of partner rograms that are accomplishing meaningful change in Freeborn County. I’m anxious at being able to raise all the funds to do so. I am taking a leap of faith though — that while not every program may not be funded, the ones that have the greatest impact will. That impact will tell the story — and hopefully inspire others to give.

One final note — many of you remember the awful six weeks at the beginning of the year when our phones were down. Next week, we’re scheduled for a new company to come in and install our new phone and internet system. I’m told there will be no downtime on our phones — well, after the experience earlier this year, I’m not as confident as they are. So, if you do try to call, bear with us if there’s any challenges. Voicemails are generally returned within 24 hours, so try again if you don’t hear back from us! 507-373-8670 is the number when our phones are working, and hopefully, the new company will be much more reliable!

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.