Three questions

When people ask how things are going at United Way of Southwest Minnesota, they are often interested in learning one of three things: 1.) How my new job is going? 2.) What is happening in terms of impact making strategies or initiatives? 3.) What is the annual fundraising goal for this campaign? All are very valid questions.

My role as executive director is now closing out its seventh month. It’s been a busy and productive tenure thus far and I feel that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. I love coming to work each day where I have the opportunity and privilege to work with a variety of local people united to make community impact right here, right now.

The United Way of Southwest Minnesota Board of Directors recently approved four Special Community Projects Grants in the first round totaling $9,735.00. For 2013-2014, $15,000 was made available to fund these special projects. Round two will have a deadline of January 30 and the remaining $5,265.00 will be available. All grant applicants were reviewed and interviewed by community volunteers who then made their recommendations to the Board for final approval similar to the process used in the spring for Community Impact grant applicants; only on a smaller scale. Projects being funded had a clear tie to the United Way’s Goals for the Common Good focusing on either Education, Income (financial stability), Health, United Against Hunger or United for Safety & Well-Being and demonstrated clear impact and potential outcomes in those areas. Those applications being funded in Round One are as follows: United to Increase Safety & Well-Being: PFLAG-Marshall-Buffalo Ridge plans to build awareness and provide education by creating bullying resource kits that would be available at area schools and/or public libraries for check-out; Income (financial stability): Literacy Volunteers of Southwest Minnesota will support adult literacy outreach to communities that they have yet to serve in Lyon, Lincoln and portions of Murray, Yellow Medicine and western Redwood counties to recruit and train volunteer tutors and literacy advocates; United Against Hunger: Ruby’s Pantry of Western Community Action, hosted by Holy Redeemer Church will use grant dollars to support the startup of a new program in southwest Minnesota that procures and distributes surplus food and goods to help fight hunger in rural communities; and United Against Hunger: Yellow Medicine-Neighbors United Food Shelf will use funds to continue operation of a well-stocked food shelf to meet the increasing needs of seniors and others experiencing food insecurity in their area.

In addition to the recent Special Community Projects grants, we have launched an art contest in conjunction with MAFAC to support a program that United Way will be launching in partnership with area libraries in early winter called 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten. Also, our ‘What Does Growing Together as a Community Mean to Me’ essay contest for grades 3-6 co-sponsored by the Marshall Independent launched on Sept. 23. More details about these efforts and other exciting initiatives can be found by visiting our website at, by giving us a call at 507-929-2273 or by LIKING United Way of Southwest Minnesota on Facebook.

While we do set an ambitious campaign goal each year, we are more interested in telling the story of the impact we’re having in the communities we call home. While we need to reach a financial goal in order to have the funds to do the work, it is the work we do with the funds that is the most important thing. Here are a few additional examples of how your dollars have been invested locally to make an impact.

In the 2012 calendar year, United Way of Southwest Minnesota:

Distributed more than $260,000 to support local human service programs targeted to improving local people’s lives.

Spent more than $80,000 on community initiatives directed at making sure that when students enter kindergarten they are prepared to succeed in school and in life, including:

More than $57,000 on Imagination Library books, which included delivering over 28,000 books in 2012 to the homes of local pre-school aged children; and

More than $10,000 spent on supplies to fill Wild About Kindergarten school readiness kits that were distributed to over 850 area children who attended local kindergarten round-ups.

Distributed more than $8,700 to 22 local schools to help them meet unmet needs of their neediest students.

Connected willing volunteers with various local projects that needed their support, leading to over 2,000 hours of volunteer time going to work throughout our service area.

Like all investors, our donors want to be sure that they are getting a good return on their philanthropic investment. We can assure them they are. Annually local volunteers carefully review agencies’ programs for proposed impact; they review financial and governance information and make sure the funds will be used wisely. All these measures ensure that the funds invested on our donors’ behalf are making the greatest impact possible right here in our own backyard.