United Way awards 2021 grants to NNY groups

WATERTOWN — The United Way of Northern New York has completed the grant application and review process for 2021 grant funding to organizations that improve communities in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.

New to 2021 is the United Way’s ALICE Program. ALICE, or Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, represents individuals and families who live just above the poverty line, do not qualify for government assistance, and have no savings to buffer their finances.

“Over 45 percent of New York State residents are considered ALICE, and when we look at specific demographic groups, such as Black, Hispanic, young adults and single mothers, we know that ALICE families have the highest susceptibility of falling into poverty, which is exactly what we want to avoid,” said UWNNY CEO Jamie Cox in a statement. “These hard-working families live paycheck-to-paycheck and something as simple as replacing a blown tire on a car, ALICE is put in a position to decide whether to replace the tire or cover a copay for a prescription and purchasing food for the week. No family should ever be put in that position.”

Since ALICE does not qualify for state or federal assistance programs, the UWNNY has teamed with Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Ogdensburg, Lewis County Opportunities, St. Lawrence County Community Development Program and Watertown Urban Mission to provide funds that are immediately accessible to counselors, social workers and case managers to assist ALICE when no other funding exists.

In 2021, the United Way has committed $100,000 to keeping ALICE out of poverty in the north country. After conducting a study of poverty in Northern New York and the school districts with some of the highest poverty rates, the UWNNY issued nine grants to nine different school districts, to be used specifically for children in need of winter footwear, jackets, hats and gloves.

“I was amazed at how many emails that I received last winter from school districts looking for a specific size of boots or coat for a child,” Mr. Cox said. “While the guidance counselors and social workers are going through the nonprofit network to find the appropriate size, which is often unsuccessful, the student is kept waiting for days or weeks for the footwear or winterwear to arrive. In many cases, the teachers and administrators reach into their own wallets and purses to buy the item for the child. This pilot program was designed to put resources into the hands of the teachers and administrators so that immediate action can be taken if the coats or boots cannot be donated or found at a thrift store in a timely manner.”

The United Way convened four Community Review Panels, which consisted of a diverse group of volunteers from each county. The Lewis County Community Review Panel was held on Sept. 23, St. Lawrence County on Sept. 25, and the two Jefferson County panels on Sept. 28 and 30. A total of 60 grant applications were received. Each review panel thoroughly reviewed the merits of its assigned grant applications, and deliberated the value based on the other requests from that county.

Following ratification of the Community Review Panel recommendations by UWNNY’s Board of Directors, 39 grant applications were funded. Based on total dollars raised during the annual United Way campaign, the recipients of 2021 United Way grant funding include ACR Health, the ALICE program, and the American Red Cross for all three counties, as well as various organizations and school districts local to each county.

“Our Community Review Panel volunteers had the most arduous of jobs: to decide which program and services provided the highest return on investment to each town and village and make a funding recommendation to the United Way of Northern New York’s Board of Directors,” Mr. Cox said in a statement. “There’s no question about the validity of any of the grants that we received; however, the Community Review Panels had to make very difficult decisions on where to invest our funds.”

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