September 30, 2014

Medina
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Revamped funding leaves some nonprofits scrambling

Music therapist Brenda Wise conducts a "drum circle" at Camp Paradise, a facility in southern Montville Township that provides a variety of services and programs for developmentally disabled individuals. Camp Paradise is operated by SHC-The ARC of Medina County, which lost most of its United Way money this year because of a change in the way the agency funds nonprofits. (DAVID KNOX / GAZETTE)

Music therapist Brenda Wise conducts a “drum circle” at Camp Paradise, a facility in southern Montville Township that provides a variety of services and programs for developmentally disabled individuals. Camp Paradise is operated by SHC-The ARC of Medina County, which lost most of its United Way money this year because of a change in the way the agency funds nonprofits. (DAVID KNOX / GAZETTE)

Last year the United Way of Medina County changed its system to fund nonprofits. Executive Director Seth Kujat said after 86 years in the old model that it was time for a change.

“It’s not about just giving to who we gave to last year,” Kujat said. “It’s about giving to the programs that are meeting the greatest needs in Medina County.”

Kujat said the new system aims to use data to determine the county’s most serious social needs: early childhood development, mental health programs for teenagers and job training for adults.

“The old model asked ‘How many people did we help?’ “ he said. “The new model is all about ending problems. It has to be looked at quality over quantity.”

Some nonprofits getting help from United Way for the first time are applauding the change. But other groups, which have seen their United Way funding reduced or eliminated, are scrambling to make up the lost dollars.

“We are going to have to go fundraise twice as hard because our budget got cut,” said Deborah Poland, executive director of Faith in Action, which provides transportation for senior citizens to medical appointments.

More than half of Faith in Action’s total revenue last year came from a $51,250 grant from United Way.

This year, the group will get no money in the new funding cycle, which starts Tuesday. United Way has not yet released the amounts of this year’s grants.

Poland is confident her nonprofit will survive, but said he felt misled by United Way.

She said Kujat told her during the application process that “no one would be left behind” as a result of the new funding system.

The SHC-The Arc of Medina County, which operates Camp Paradise in southern Montville Township and other programs for developmentally disabled individuals, is losing $51,000 it received last year.

United Way cut $25,000 to Camp Paradise and $26,000 to the Resource Center. The only grant approved was for a $4,000 scholarship.

“We’ll make up for it by fundraising, grant writing and donor support,” Executive Director Melanie Kasten-Krause said.

Kasten-Krause said she was surprised by the cuts.

“We knew the change of direction,” she said. “We did hope and think that some of our programs would fall into those areas.”

Kujat said the cuts were necessary to free up money for new programs and the agencies that lost out shouldn’t be upset.

“It’s not that they aren’t serving a good purpose, but that they aren’t serving the specific needs of Medina County,” he said.

Kujat said the new funding system is the result of the process that began three years ago that involved all of United Ways grant recipients and major donors, as well as school and government officials who concluded United Way had spread itself too thin to achieve significant change in the community.

In 2012, United Way hired The Center for Community Solutions, a Cleveland-based research group, to help design the new funding system.

Kujat said the new model is not about how many people United Way is helping, but how it can help people better.

“We’re focusing on populations where we know that if we get it right now,” Kujat said, “we won’t have those problems in the future.”

As an example of the new approach, Kujat cited a study that found 20 percent of high school students in Medina County seriously considered attempting suicide, while 30 percent felt sad or hopeless every day.

To address this problem, Kujat said United Way will team up with Alternative Paths, Solutions Behavioral and Catholic Charities to provide full-time mental health therapy to three of the five high schools in the county.

“The goal is that in three years we will be in all five high schools,” Kujat said.

Other studies indicated that the county’s poverty rate rose almost 3 percent from 2010 to 2011. Additionally, almost 24 percent of households in Medina County make less than $35,000 per year.

That’s why United Way is providing more money to help adults find good-paying, long-term employment, Kujat said.

“Its one thing to give someone utility bill pay,” he said. “But it’s another thing to give them the training they need to become self-sufficient.”

Kujat said the final area that will see additional money is early childhood development, focusing on pre-kindergarten through third grade with the primary goal of preparing children for school and helping them learn to read.

Kujat said 10 percent of the county’s third-graders have not met the Ohio Department of Education reading standards.

“We want to get every kid ready for kindergarten,” Kujat said. “We want to make sure every student is reading on grade level by fourth grade.”

Contact reporter Andrew Davis at (330) 721-4050 or adavis@medina-gazette.com.