By Alex Gannon
The United Way of Rockbridge is planning on changing its business model to become a more visible presence in the community and focus on early childhood education and literacy, according to its new executive director, Patte Wood.
“We have kind of a hidden impact because we raise funds and then they’re given to the agencies to support the programs,” Wood said. “So visibly you see the programs and the agencies more than you see United Way. But we want to change that.”
The updated business model follows Wood’s appointment as the new executive director last October. Prior to joining the United Way of Rockbridge, Wood worked as a reporter for the Rockbridge Weekly. She also led a teaching and learning center at Stanford University, where she worked for 25 years before moving to Lexington.
“It’s been a big adjustment, but it’s something I would have wanted to do from the very beginning coming here,” she said regarding her appointment. “As a reporter, I was always trying to support nonprofits. I got to know the community really well.”
Shortly before Wood’s appointment, the 18-member United Way of Rockbridge board voted on a plan to take on a more visible, hands-on approach to its community building efforts.
Instead of giving funds to designated agencies to use as they wish, United Way International has asked its affiliates to look for ways to become more directly involved with specific programs. This way, the organization believes it can make a greater impact on the community.
Under the new model, local United Ways are encouraged to produce their own strategic plans for more community-focused approach that addresses specific local needs. Education will be a priority in the Rockbridge area, Wood said.
“We can’t impact everything, focus on everything… so we’ve decided to focus on early childhood education and literacy,” Wood said. “We have so many kids that fall through the cracks and the school districts don’t have a ton of extra money because their funding is getting cut by the state.”
Wood hopes to create an education community council that will get local agencies working together to support under-funded programs.
“We’ll be looking not to do everything, but to help facilitate,” she said.
But to implement these changes, the United Way of Rockbridge must rely on donations from the public. Without them, many community organizations could not survive.
“All the agencies rely on being able to get funding from us,” Wood said. “So without that, they’d be really struggling, especially with all the cutbacks.”
The United Way of Rockbridge has collected $239,000 in donations during its current campaign. The campaign’s target is $250,000.
“We’re 95 percent of the way there,” said Wood. “But that last 5 percent is really hard to get.”
Wood believes that the group will reach its goal. The branch’s fiscal year ends in June, and many companies that regularly donate to the United Way of Rockbridge have just started their charitable donation campaigns.
Despite all of the progress, Wood says there is still much work ahead.
“We’re still looking at how to go about implementing (the strategic plan). We really don’t know yet. That will be the work of this year,” she said.