The United Way of Hampshire and Franklin Counties have worked together for decades, but last week the organizations announced that they had officially merged into one, now known as the United Way of the Franklin and Hampshire Area. .
The merger is the culmination of an 18-month process to create a larger organization, staffed with more consistency, flexibility, stability and more resources, according to the agency.
“We have had a close relationship with Franklin County for decades,” said executive director of the merged entity, John Bidwell, who was previously executive director of United Way of Hampshire County. A 28-member board of directors will also lead the organization.
In announcing the merger, the agency said that “as a single entity, we are better positioned to meet the changing needs of our communities and have more resources for the ongoing work to create a strong, equitable community. and inclusive for every resident of our region. “The merger was official on July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year 2022.
United Way, a non-profit agency, has raised funds for dozens of partners in a local network of social service agencies. The agency also uses a community-based process to identify the greatest needs in the region to decide which agencies are best placed to meet those needs, and then allocates resources accordingly through grants. Children, youth and their families, economic security, and health and safety are some of the areas he has focused on in grant cycles.
United Way is partnering with SingleCare to offer discounted prescriptions as part of one of its initiatives. The agency also partners with Look 4 Help to find social services for food, housing, mental health, addiction and recovery, disability services, legal aid, transportation, employment and vocational training.
The Northampton and Greenfield offices will continue to operate as they did before the merger. United Way’s diaper bank will remain housed in the Greenfield location, and staff will split time between the two offices to be easily accessible, according to the agency. The Northampton office is located at 71 King Street. The Greenfield office is at 51 Davis Street, Suite 2.
Bidwell said that a few years ago the two offices began to share back office support, and “not just ideas” but coordination with agencies which naturally led to more serious conversations about a merger. formal in winter 2019 in 2020. Then the COVID -19 pandemic struck.
“There was a concern of, should we put this idea aside? Bidwell said. “The answer was, ‘No, we have to keep moving forward,’ and it took 18 months. ”
Before the merger, the Hampshire County agency had a budget of $ 1.25 million, while the Franklin County agency had around $ 750,000, according to Bidwell.
Now with the same budget there are savings, Bidwell said. There will be only one executive for the merged organization, and not one for each. The same goes for the CFO; there will be only one for the new organization.
“It frees up opportunities to help with programs and give back to programs – this is the type of opportunity that a merger can provide,” Bidwell said.
The new regional United Way has already hired a new program director, who will begin in the coming weeks, according to Bidwell.
As for Franklin County Executive Director Sarah Tanner was acting, and her tenure ended at the end of fiscal 2021 on June 30. She remains with the new merged United Way as a consultant, according to Bidwell. .
The merger also means that successful programs will continue to grow.
The two Centraides had already collaborated in the creation of a successful diaper bank. Prior to the collaboration, a diaper drive in Franklin County, which was limited to the summer, provided approximately 50,000 diapers. The Diaper Bank, on the other hand, is open year round and supplies nearly 200,000 diapers in Hampshire and Franklin counties.
“In Franklin County there is a reading program that we don’t have here, and we are adopting that reading program in Hampshire County like in Franklin,” Bidwell said.
As for new initiatives, some brainstorming remains.
“Starting in the summer, there will be a strategic planning process on how we, as a new entity, can have the best and strongest impact in the community. There may be opportunities to do different programs, ”Bidwell said.
Six months from now, there will be more concrete answers on what the merger might mean for the new programming, he said.
“We know that question is there – it’s a logical question – but in the middle of the merger, we were looking to do the merger from a legal point of view,” he explained.
The merged agency will raise funds as a single entity and implement a community campaign that will span the two counties. Perennial events, such as Ski United and Supper for Six, will continue.
“With an expanded network of supporters, we hope the events continue to grow and provide increased resources for the benefit of our community partners and service providers,” the agency said in its announcement regarding the merger.
Previous incarnations of United Way have included the Community Chest, Red Feather, and the United Fund.
“United Way has always amalgamated,” Bidwell said. “It’s a natural expansion to find opportunities to come together. ”
He noted that most of the community members and the nonprofits they serve do not necessarily identify at the county level, but rather at the regional level.
“The idea that we only identify by county is not entirely accurate. A lot of people live in one county and work in another, ”Bidwell said. “People are more transient than ever. ”
Luis Fieldman can be contacted at [email protected]