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Over the past year, we have worked with people across the community to co-create a new community investment process that is led by community members. This has resulted in a fundamental shift in how United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County invests in community individuals, organizations, and initiatives.
*We are proud to announce these community partners as the first United for Youth Community Grants awardees.
United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County (UWABC) is a locally-governed, nonprofit organization working towards a vision of “A united and resilient community where everyone belongs and everyone thrives.” For 100 years, UWABC has invested in nonprofit health and human service providers of all types. Several years ago, we sought to shift our work to align with the principles of Community Schools, which champion the idea that educational excellence and equity are inseparable.UWABC also started doing our own internal work, which began with a handful of staff getting together internally to talk about equity each week and has evolved to working towards centering equity in everything we do. As our equity journey progressed, we realized that while our granting system has evolved over the years, neither the application process nor the decision-making table has been equally accessible to all organizations and individuals in our community.
After reflecting on the history of United Way and the impacts UWABC has had on different communities, we are seeking to shift the power that lies in the funder-funded partner dynamic. We are working to flip the existing power dynamic to act as a vehicle for community voice and a partner-led by the collective wisdom of community members, who are experts in the impact power-hoarding and underinvestment has had in their communities and lives.
Through a human-centered design approach and in collaboration with our team of Design Fellows composed of community members, we co-designed what we hope will be an inclusive investment process that champions community voice. Our Investment Design Process had multiple phases, the first of which began with research, in which we spoke with community members to gain insight into what they thought of our existing grantmaking process and how it should be improved. The final phase is that of transferring power to our community members, so that they are able to champion themselves, determine what resources are available to them, and embody the “nothing about us, without us” guiding principle of participatory grant-making.
The Community Conversations Committee, a community-minded and diverse group of influencers, advocates, and residents planned and facilitated five conversations open to the public throughout Buncombe to discuss the major challenges community members see facing the County. The sessions also provided space to envision what it would look like to live in a County where ALL Asheville City and Buncombe County students graduate fully prepared to pursue their goals and dreams by 2035.
Led by the research collected from our community participants, Community Conversation Committee members combed through the responses to determine overarching themes that the individual responses fit into.
The three major community themes prioritized in this grant pilot:
- Equitable access to opportunities, mental health care, tutoring, and counseling for college
- Creation and access to internships and apprenticeships
- Building connections with the community and role models in the school
Solutions were identified to address these themes named by community members.
The first prototype:
Community Block Parties and Fairs
- Community focused and community-owned
- Recurring events will be held in neighborhoods across Asheville City and Buncombe County
- Provide access to:
- health and wellness education and discourse
- peer-peer future planning - such as financial, college, or business resources
- communal identity sharing through storytelling
The second prototype:
Community Powered Family Centers
- Co-created by school and parent collectives and act as a primary resource and meeting space for families
- Center operates as a near-safe space for community members to seek resources and utilize peer and expert learning opportunities
A third committee called the Community Investment Committee, supported by United Way staff, Tera Coffey Consulting and CoThinkk was nominated and voted by the community to develop the third phase of the process and create a new Request for Proposal design, application process, and selection procedure.
The Community Investment Committee are community members consisting of:
- 12 members: Youth (5) and Adults (7) from 13-71 years old
- All ages, races, backgrounds, genders, and professions from throughout Buncombe County
- Lived experience with family, personal, or financial challenges, or systemic/institutional discrimination
- Deeply connected to their community
- Want to see community-building work done directly within their community
Committee Member Commitments:
- $25 per hour for their time (approximately 40-hour time commitment total).
- Commit to serving on the committee for a minimum of 6 months starting January 2023 through June, with an option to extend participation.
- Commit to working with fellow committee members using co-created group norms.
- Commit to serving approximately 6 hours per month in meetings and/or offline review.
- Each in-person meeting will provide child care, interpretation, and meals.
- Committee members will be supported by United Way and CoThinkk facilitators, including an onboarding meeting.
- Meetings will be held virtually and in person.
- Committee members are NOT barred from applying for the co-created RFP, and are able to vote for all applications submitted.
- Commit to your role as a storyteller through interviews and visual interactions that would be used to raise public awareness of the committee and its work.
To honor our community’s wisdom there was an open nomination and voting platform to determine the investment committee.
Selection of the Committee members:
- Decided in an open and transparent way
- Comprised of community members with different professional backgrounds
- Comprised of community members from traditionally excluded communities
- Comprised of community members with lived experience in the area where the dollars are being spent — for example, if we were to have money to spend on schools, student voice should be included
- Determined by community members, not UWABC
The Journey Continues
Request For Proposal (RFP) & Application Process
This Community Investment Committee has worked together to co-create Request for Proposals and an application process that:
- Includes a more direct and concise layout with fewer pages than traditional RFPs
- Contains comprehensible language and translation for a complete understanding
- Implements visuals and graphics to engage the reader/applicant
- Is easily accessible on the internet, social media, and in-person avenues
- Is an application process that is very straightforward removing barriers with many formats to apply
If you have any additional questions or comments:
- Deborah Calhoun at 828-236-9504 or email at email@example.com
- Jen Buell, 828-239-9195 firstname.lastname@example.org
- United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County | 50 South French Broad Avenue, Suite 100, Asheville, NC 28801 | M-F 8:30 am-5:00 pm