Lake Area United Way Focuses Mission on Struggling Working Families

MERRILLVILLE | Lake Area United Way announced Thursday that it will refocus its mission on helping families in financial hardship, adopting a community impact model intended to target one area of need and make a measurable difference.

"They're working, but they're struggling to make ends meet," Lisa Daugherty, president and CEO of the LAUW, told a gathering of nonprofit leaders gathered at Innsbruck Country Club for Thursday's announcement.

The households are described by the acronym ALICE -- Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.

"ALICE is the story behind working familes who are struggling," Daugherty said. They often faces choices between health care and child care, or food and rent.

"These folks are making hard choices that no family should have to make," Daugherty said. She said 25 percent of Lake County households fall into that category.

"Low income jobs -- they dominate the economy now and they will continue to dominate the economy," she said.

The current recipients of LAUW grants will see a 20 percent drop in aid on Jan. 1, and the community impact model will be implemented over the course of three years.

In 2017 and 2018, the LAUW will continue to allocate 20 percent of its grants for emergencies -- food, clothing, shelter and other basic needs.

The LAUW had two motivations for the shift to the community impact model: a 30 percent decline in revenue for its annual Community Campaign, making the organization's traditional role of "middle man" between donors and service organizations less tenable; and growing discrepancies in education, health, income and public safety for residents across the region.

"We were not looking to cut your funding," Daugherty told the gathered agency leaders. "The goal was to identify a critical issue and align our funding around that."

Daugherty said the United Way would work closely in coming months and years with its partners to align missions as much as possible. She said as many as 80 percent of its current partners could fit into the ALICE program.

"We haven't even begun to make a decision about who or what programs actually align," she said.

A multi-phase project will establish data-driven criteria and goals.

Agency leaders were supportive of the move Thursday.

The ALICE target excited Catholic Charities executive director Jennifer Dyer.

"That is our population," she said. "Those are the people we serve day in and day out."

Tradewinds CEO Jon Gold said the move "makes a lot of sense" for the United Way. He said Tradewinds likely has programs that will fit the new goal.

"We're fortuntate that we're established and Tradewinds has many different programs and we'll be able to participate," he said.

Gordon Johnson, executive director of the Northwest Indiana Red Cross, called it "a very exciting direction for the United Way to take and to lead the community."

While the Red Cross is an emergency response agency, he said many families the Red Cross assists are in the ALICE population.

"We fit well in the basic needs side, and have an impact on the working class families," he said. "It looks to me like the United Way is making the right changes."

Published in The Times of Northwest Indiana - 10/22/2015