United Way plans funding cuts
For 29 children with mental health issues, the Greensburg YMCA's swimming pool provides gym class and socialization.
"If this would be cut, it would definitely be disastrous to us," said Amy Jo Bednar, team leader for the educational and therapeutic program for the Greensburg Partial Hospitalization Program. "We have no other gym class. We have no facility."
But the Greensburg YMCA, which helps groups such as Greensburg Partial and others with water safety and physical education programs through its aquatics offerings, might find itself passing costs onto the people it serves.
The United Way of Westmoreland County recently notified the YMCA and 28 other agencies that their funding for the next three years will be decreased.
The moves were necessary, said United Way officials, to move money to areas the agency believed met more critical needs.
The redistribution comes after the United Way has made efforts for several years to bring more accountability to its allocation process and to show donors the results of programs it funds.
"The best way to grow everything would be to simply grow the pie, but if we couldn't grow this pie we had to redistribute," said Nancy Kukovich, president of United Way of Westmoreland County.
The United Way decided to change focus in 2001, Kukovich said. Donors became its No. 1 customer. And programs funded by the United Way had to show results.
A needs assessment in 2003 showed people worried about such issues as school readiness, problems facing adolescents and the elderly, and food, clothing and shelter for the needy.
Three Community Impact Councils were formed to address those needs: Helping Children and Youth Succeed, Supporting Aging and Vulnerable Populations, and Building Strong Neighborhoods and Communities.
The United Way found that programs dealing with the aging and vulnerable populations were receiving only about 9 percent of funding from its Community Impact Fund in 2004, Kukovich said.
The fund is set up to provide grants to partner agencies, and about $1.3 million is available to distribute each year. Donors can either earmark money for the fund or designate donations to specific agencies.
Because of the funding disparity for the elderly, the United Way decided to ask agencies to submit applications and show how their programs served the community, Kukovich said.
Most agencies -- 38 in all -- received the same amount of funding or more.
There is a "much stronger focus on basic necessities," Kukovich said.
So shelters such as Welcome Home in Greensburg and Union Mission in Latrobe will receive every penny they requested. So will the Westmoreland Food Bank. Catholic Charities will receive an increase, as will ParentWise.
"(The agencies with increases) are agencies that really could tell us what the results are of the programs we are funding," Kukovich said.
The 29 other agencies will see gradual funding decreases over a three-year period.
Recreational groups, some Salvation Army units and Scouting organizations face decreases.
"It's not that those agencies aren't valued," said Dana Bauer, vice president of community investments for the United Way. "It was about us needing to focus so we could report back to our donors."
United Way officials pointed out that they have switched from an allocation process to a grant process.
"Allocation was entitlement. A grant is something you have to go in each year, and there's no guarantee you're going to get it," said John Ward, chair of the United Way's board of directors.
Agencies must decide how to make up for the loss of money.
The Westmoreland Fayette Council Boy Scouts of America will see its funding drop drastically. Last year, the group received $84,444 from the Community Impact Fund. In 2007, the Scouts will receive $7,500.
Scout Executive Bill Taylor said the news of a cut was a shock to him.
"I know the economy isn't exactly flourishing, although it's on the upswing," Taylor said. "Times are tough for everybody. We didn't expect it, but it's something we're going to have to try to deal with and press on and continue to try to offer the best services we can."
United Way money is used to support the Boy Scouts' normal programs, plus Learning for Life, a values-based educational program for schools. A career component brings professionals into schools and takes kids to workplaces.
"We're going to have to sit down and analyze our situation and regroup and try to do our best to deliver the programs without cutting anything, which will be difficult," Taylor said.
Just a few months ago, the Greensburg YMCA was named the United Way's Partner of Distinction.
"There was a day when probably United Way made up about 10 percent of our annual operating budget, and as I was running the numbers, in the year 2008 it looks like it will be 1 percent of our total budget," said Greensburg YMCA Chief Executive Officer Richard Nedley. "It's a huge impact to us."
The YMCA's Early Childhood Learning Center received partial funding, but not a cent went to its aquatics or teen programs.
Aquatic classes are offered to a number of different groups -- from the Scouts to Intermediate Unit students to the kids in the Greensburg Partial program, Nedley said.
"What we will have to do is either cut some programs or we pass along what had been traditionally subsidized through United Way funds to the agencies," he said.
The YMCA probably will ask donors to direct their United Way donations to the YMCA, rather than the Community Impact Fund, in hopes of making up the lost revenue, Nedley said.
Donna Pacella, executive director of the Westmoreland Chapter of the American Red Cross, said the United Way cuts won't affect her agency.
"It's not going to affect it because we're not going to allow it to affect it," Pacella said.
The Westmoreland Chapter was one of four Red Cross units to receive a reduction. The others include Chestnut Ridge, New Kensington and Armstrong.
Pacella said the United Way fully funded her agency's critical areas -- disaster services and blood services -- at $75,074.
But the Red Cross' Community Education component will not receive funding.
Those programs offer 50 free, educational courses to about 25,000 people a year at schools and through recreational programs. The courses range from swimming to community disaster education to first aid and CPR.
"They're programs that we need in our community, and we're going to fund them anyway," Pacella said.
William Barger, chief executive officer of Arc of Westmoreland, said he understands why the United Way is making changes.
"They're being more responsive to their donors, and I think that's important," Barger said.
Two ARC programs are being funded. But Safari Center, an integrated, creative play space for children up to age 6, will not receive United Way dollars. Special-needs children and typically developed children play together there.
"We do have enough operating capital that it's not going to have a direct impact on the services we provide," Barger said. "All that really means is we're going to have to seek additional grants though.
"Perhaps we won't do some things we wanted to do or perhaps we'll postpone them until we find some additional funding," Barger added.
Agencies that lost some funding have another outlet.
About $50,000 to $100,000 was set aside for an appeal process. Agencies can come back to the United Way to appeal their decrease if new information is available.
"We do expect that we'll have people that come back in," Kukovich said.