United Way chapter doles out local grants

The United Way of the Northern Shenandoah Valley has announced the 2017-2018 contributions for its annual community grant program, doling out over $500,000 to local organizations.

The annual grants go to organizations that need funding to respond to local community needs, particularly in the form of helping lower-income residents.

The grants this year are going to organizations focusing on education needs, health needs and financial stability support in the Northern Shenandoah Valley region. The United Way is giving around $120,000 to education-related organizations, $215,000 to health-related organizations and $210,000 to organizations focused on supporting financial stability needs.

One of the organizations receiving the funding, the Shenandoah Community Health Clinic, plans on using the money to expand counseling services to students in Shenandoah County Public Schools. Pam Murphy, executive director of the clinic, said that after the group started offering the services in the southern part of the district last year, they were overwhelmed by the need for mental health services.

“We had a counselor working [in Quicksburg] three days a week, and it wasn’t enough,” Murphy said. “She has had 45 active patients and a waiting list of up to 25 patients, and we realized that we had underestimated what the need would be.”

Murphy said that the organization aims to expand its counseling services to Woodstock and Strasburg and to eventually have 3 1/2 counselors on staff.

Murphy said that children in Virginia have a particularly low level of access to mental health care, leaving many students in the state without anyone able to treat their depression. Meanwhile, some studies, like a 2017 article in the Journal of Psychological Medicine, have suggested that depression rates are rising, especially among teenagers.

“We’ve talked to a lot of kids that have had traumas in the family…that seemed to bring more angst for kids, who really don’t have the life experience to know how to deal with it or the emotional resources to know what to do with that depression or anxiety,” Murphy said. “So we’re glad that we’re able to kind of teach them how to cope with some of the hardships that life has.”

The Shenandoah Community Health Center is going to receive $20,000 through the United Way grant, enough to cover about a third of the salary of another counselor. The clinic is also receiving about $16,000 to provide dental care to uninsured residents.

The clinic also received funding last year for dental care through the grant, but Murphy said that the organization is receiving more money this year.

“The funds that [the United Way chapter] is giving to the dental clinic are targeted to help uninsured (people), which is a huge blessing because we charge a nominal fee, but we’re losing about $140 for every uninsured patient that we serve,” Murphy said. “So we really depend on grants and donations to help supplement for that population, because otherwise, we’d have to see a lot fewer people and we’d go broke.”

Nadine Pottinga, the CEO of the United Way chapter, said that the chapter encouraged groups to focus more on providing services to what the United Way calls an ALICE population — a group of people who have jobs or Social Security benefits but are still living paycheck-to-paycheck. Also, the chapter gave organizations more specific guidelines when they applied for the grants.

That, Pottinga said, likely changed what organizations requested funding for. But, she said, it likely didn’t affect which groups requested funding from the chapter.

The United Way chapter saw more funding requests than in recent years. Agencies requested a combined total of over $1.1 million,  a 38-percent increase from last year.

Some of that, Pottinga said, has to do with how many organizations requested funding this year.

“The more we get out in the community, the more people know about the opportunities for funding, the more are going to actually apply,” Pottinga said.

But Pottinga also said that some organizations lost funding because of budget cuts or other reasons.

“They’re looking to figure out how to actually make that up, and we’re one of those places that they come to,” Pottinga said.

On the Net

View grant award list: https://tinyurl.com/y8xff35l