Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

United Way: Changes to Nonprofit Agency Paying Off

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

United Way: Changes to Nonprofit Agency Paying Off

Article excerpt

Significant changes in the way United Way of Topeka allocated funds to area nonprofit agencies are paying off five years later, the organization's new board chairwoman said Thursday.

Becky Holmquist, US Bank, officially took the helm of United Way's board at the annual meeting. She is replacing Larry Robbins, USD 501, at the end of his two-year term.

"The story of impact in our community is finally being written. The first five years were a lot of pre-work for the developing narrative," Holmquist said. "We're starting to get measurements of our impact work. We're starting to understand how it's changed people and how it's ultimately going to change our community."

In 2012, United Way shifted from giving financial support to specific organizations and went instead to a grant system, targeting the organization's dollars to make specific changes in the community. The focus is on education, financial stability and health. The first years were challenging, both for UW and for the nonprofits it funded.

But Holmquist told UW supporters that programs put in place, such as a Neighborhood Opportunity for Wellness grant that has been at work in Topeka's public housing neighborhoods and support of Pine Ridge Preschool, have had noticeable impacts.

"The first preschoolers that you helped in 2012 are now in fourth grade," Holmquist said. "Those children brought the challenges of their first few years of life that included poverty and crime, and hunger and traumas that most of us don't experience in a whole lifetime. All the partners working together pulled the potential from those kids, and they helped them to develop the skills and the habits that they need to start kindergarten and have success. Their teachers in grade school tell us that it worked."

Test scores for those children are up, she added. At Pine Ridge Preschool, families in public housing were first cautious and even reluctant to send their children to the preschool. It launched with a few children in one room. …

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