ELYRIA — When a financial crisis threatens to topple a struggling family, the United Way of Greater Lorain County and a group of partner agencies often provide help.
The United Community Assistance Network, which is expected to launch later this month, consists of 10 partner organizations that will provide year-round access to emergency financial assistance for rent, utility and other emergency basic needs for Lorain County residents.
The partners are United Way of Greater Lorain County, Catholic Charities, Lorain County Office on Aging, Neighborhood Alliance, North Ridgeville Community Care, Oberlin Community Services and the Salvation Army (Elyria, Lorain, Oberlin and Vermilion).
United Way of Greater Lorain County Executive Director Bill Harper said the organizations do not usually have the opportunity to work together, but the new system will allow the groups to pool their resources to best help someone in need.
He said, for the first time, the partners will offer assistance at a single site. A person won’t have to visit multiple agencies to receive the help he or she needs, Harper said.
“You know how big this is,” he said to network partners.
Harper said the collaboration is expected to help a greater audience than the United Way could reach on its own.
“In this model, the only thing that we’re doing is bringing people together to achieve the same goal,” he said. “We think we can help more people and we can do a better job of it.”
The collaboration is part of a shift in the philosophy and emphasis of United Way. Previously, the United Way received donations from businesses and employees and invested them in programs that provided direct services to individuals.
Now, the organization is following the “community impact model” of other United Way agencies, such as one in Cincinnati, which asks groups to come together to serve a greater cause.
Harper said, through an advisory council, the United Way of Greater Lorain County developed areas of priority to focus on during the next four years, including education, income and health.
The new effort was announced during the agency’s campaign finale and celebration event at Lorain County Community College on Tuesday. Also announced, the United Way of Greater Lorain County raised $3.051 million — the highest total in 11 years and a 6 percent increase from last year’s campaign.
Harper said United Way expects to distribute the funds to 12 other collaborations, including the city of Oberlin, Oberlin Schools and the Oberlin Early Childhood Center.
That collaboration hopes to address kindergarten readiness.
Traditionally, the school district hasn’t been involved with children under the age of 3, said City Manager Eric Norenberg.
“We realize that, in order to accomplish this goal, we need to have multiple partners working together to strengthen each other and improve the community,” Norenberg said.
Jennifer Harris, executive director at Oberlin Early Childhood Center, said there are gaps between educational service organizations in the city, something that she didn’t realize until reaching out to the community.
Now, the groups will work together to fill those gaps, she said.
“Today, I’m confident in our plan, through our collaborative that we created, will ensure that all children enter school ready to learn, and it will create long-lasting impacts in the Oberlin community,” she said.
Harper said those collaborations will begin soon, but other collaborations are still in the works, including a community effort to improve the health of residents in the Keystone School District. Community leaders have been discussing a variety of options — to build a community health center, as well as improve walking trails and increase access to healthy foods.