WATERTOWN — The United Way of Northern New York has finished reviewing 2022 grant applications from organizations dedicated to improving communities and has awarded funding to 33 out of 37 programs, with funding totaling $420,000.

In this latest round of funding, some organizations are noticeably absent, like the YMCA, the Disabled Persons Action Organization, and more. In many cases, these organizations did not submit applications for grants this year, usually due to having received the funds they needed from other sources, according to United Way Chief Executive Officer Jaime L. Cox.

“I think last year the number was 36, so we haven’t dropped significantly and, as a matter of fact, the total dollar amount is still the same,” Mr. Cox said. “How we train them (the review panels) is much different than in the past. We used to train them just on how to grade a grant as opposed to training last year, and this year really focuses on teaching our volunteers about all the socioeconomic challenges faced in the different cities, towns and villages in the north country.”

Training now is focused on getting grant reviewers into the mode of asking questions about what’s taking place in the communities and what priorities different towns, villages and school districts have.

The United Way convened four volunteer-led Community Review Panels and for the first time, a Regional Community Review Panel, which reviewed grant applications from agencies that serve more than one county in the region. Rounding out the panels were county-specific groups from Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. Each panel reviewed the merits of their assigned grant applications and deliberated values based on other requests from the region.

In a first for UWNNY, one of the grant recipients was the Health Workforce Initiative, sponsored by the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization. The UWNNY granted funds for a system that will help medical facilities in Northern New York recruit medical professionals from across the United States. As it stands, the medical community is challenged to find, recruit and retain high quality medical professionals.

Following ratification of the Community Review Panel recommendations by the UWNNY Board of Directors, 33 grant programs were funded. The recipients of 2022 United Way grant funding include Family Counseling of Northern New York, Literacy of Northern New York, the Watertown Urban Mission, Hand-in-Hand Early, ACR Health, Credo Community Center for the Treatment of Addictions Inc. and the Holistic Life Foundation, among others.

One of the organizations that did not submit a grant application for the second year in a row was Pivot. According to Mr. Cox, the executive director of Pivot, William Bowman, contacted him last summer a few months into the pandemic and said he had enough government funding to get through, that he was not going to write a grant because there were other people who need funding more than Pivot. He had the same position this year, getting by well enough with federal and state dollars.

“It’s working with guys like Bill that make my job much easier,” Mr. Cox said. “But on the flip side is somebody like John Wilson at Credo who, with our overdose rates and the rates of people getting hit with Narcan going through the roof, certainly that is one of our high priorities because literally you’re talking about life and death type of stuff.”

When grants are submitted to the United Way, Mr. Cox said he encourages the executive directors and the CEOs to apply for funding in areas they need it the most. It just so happens that Credo’s grant this year was written specifically for its Narcan program, for a Narcan instructor, kits and training.

For the Watertown Urban Mission, funding is specifically for its Meals on Wheels program.

One of Mr. Cox’s personal favorites, the Holistic Life Foundation, is actually a foundation out of Baltimore that has partnered with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe to put mental health professionals in schools. In this particular case, it’s a pilot project for Massena Central School District to bring in trained young men and women for a program called Mindful Moments, in which teachers and children are given training for when they have anxiety in the classroom.

“This is my third round through the grant cycle and I think that we are much more progressive in how we invest our money, and the focus isn’t nonprofits, the focus is community outcomes,” Mr. Cox said. “Even our grant questions that we ask have dramatically changed, because it is about that nonprofit’s ability to perform the mission, but you’ve got to showcase what the impact and the outcomes are in the community in terms of bettering the lives of others.”

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