“How can we do better together?” This question posed during Future Ready Collier’s conceptualization remains a guiding principle of the network’s daily work. As a founding partner, the United Way of Collier and the Keys (formerly the United Way of Collier County) has been instrumental in Future Ready Collier’s evolution. Uniquely positioned as both a local grantmaker and direct services provider, the United Way understands the criticality of local connection. The collaboration engendered by and through Future Ready Collier has a compounding effect, enabling the United Way and similar entities to better understand and subsequently address regional need.
Working Together to Make a Difference
Steve Sanderson, President & CEO, was involved in those early conversations that gave rise to Future Ready Collier. Awareness among Southwest Florida education and nonprofit leaders that a focused effort would be required to address lagging academic indicators led to coalescence and shared governance. Sanderson reflects on meetings then versus now, noting that the comfort level with “people coming together on these higher levels” has substantially increased, adding, “there should be a lot of pride about the progress made.” Instead of asking if we can work together, the question today is, what are all the ways we can effectively work together to make a difference.
Among the factors contributing to Future Ready Collier’s success to date, Sanderson and Spencer Smith, Vice President of Programs for the United Way, note the strength of commitment, content, engagement, and planning. Meetings convene the right people about the important topics, and are efficiently facilitated to optimize participants’ time. Strategic activation of influential stakeholders, such as the Collier County Public Schools, Naples Children and Education Foundation, the Early Learning Coalition of Southwest Florida, and others, helps create the right circumstances for alignment.
While the United Way, by virtue of their long-term role in the community, already had established relationships with many Future Ready Collier partners, membership in the network serves to solidify those affiliations. For example, a United Way effort to bring the Dolly Parton Imagination Library to Collier County has benefitted from utilizing Future Ready Collier contacts to share details about the program with families with eligible children. Access to data and maps, as well as enhanced connectivity within regional early learning providers, has been important to launching the initiative. Moreover, getting the chance to be a part of transparent conversations among local leaders gives the United Way, in its role as a funder, better insight into where help is needed, and how to thoughtfully distribute to minimize duplication while maximizing reach.
In response to the COVID-19 emergency, the United Way has accelerated plans to roll out more robust remote case management. This system makes it easier for clients as well as case managers, and has been received well so far. In fact, Collier County allocated $1.6 million to the United Way towards mortgage and rental assistance, and a total of $2.2 million in funding is currently flowing through the platform. Residents who need assistance with a range of essential needs, like housing, income, healthcare, utilities, and food access, can also use the United Way’s 211 service. Accessible 24/7, 211 is reachable by phone, text, online chat or email, and links with more than 250 agencies. In addition to providing meaningful, practical aid, the availability of 211 simply lets people know they’re not alone in their struggles.
Sanderson frames the United Way’s purpose as to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to thrive. To that end, their membership in Future Ready Collier is another means by which that vision is achieved. Being engaged, being a part of the process, and being a part of the solution are all motivators behind the United Way’s continued support of Future Ready Collier. Collectively, all involved are amplifying impact.
Prepared by Caroline Ridgway of C1B1 Communications.