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United Way to Harness the Power of Partnership

What are the biggest issues facing children, families and seniors in Santa Barbara County? United Way wants to hear from you.

The consensus of a community is a powerful thing, and with an innovative new program, the United Way of Santa Barbara County is looking to harness that power for the sake of the community’s children, families and seniors.

Called the Power of Partnership Initiative, the United Way’s program is aimed at focusing the community’s attention and resources toward the top two or three issues most community members say are the biggest problems affecting children, families and seniors in the area today. The initiative officially launched Monday.

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“What it does is it will force changes in every sector of the community in terms of how we do our business,” said Paul Didier, United Way president and CEO.

By coming together and discussing the different needs of the local population, the community will come up with a definitive and more effective method for using its resources, Didier said. Local agencies, including government, law enforcement, education and nonprofit organizations will be able to focus their efforts to tackle the same goals over the next 10 years.

“It’s not about the United Way dictating what we’re supposed to do,”Didier said. “The United Way will be there to facilitate the discussion.”

But what are Santa Barbara County’s biggest issues? Gangs? Budget cuts? Housing? Methamphetamine? That’s what the United Way is asking the community. About 73 public forums and meetings are planned to discuss and collect comments and opinions over the next 15 months. Click here for an Internet version of the survey.

In addition, the organization will send out people to poll the community at large as well as in the more than 200 local businesses that participate in United Way activities.

“It’s a process of asking and listening, and asking and listening,” said Didier, explaining that the community’s vision will be broken down into specific goals with measurable outcomes, after which strategies are put into place to meet those goals.

The program was inspired by a survey that concluded that more than 600 grants were made to nonprofit organizations on the South Coast in 2005.

But while there certainly was money available, more than 500 different goals were being sought, Didier said.

“That’s a lot of diffusion and inefficiency, from our perspective,” he said.

By winnowing down to a few goals, or even a single goal, the money raised and effort spent would be more effective, he said.

But before people start worrying about the commitment to just one or two problems over five to 10 years, it’s important to remember that solving one important issue could also open the way to solving other related challenges.

For instance, said Didier, pointing out a similar effort carried out recently in Madison, Wis., working on a goal to focus on closing the race and ethnicity gap in children’s third-grade reading skills would, over time, result not just in better readers, but the skills to be able to handle high school better, leading to more opportunity and a decreased likelihood of joining gangs.

“They are now the only community in the United States that has reduced the reading achievement gap,” he said.

Local leaders have expressed support for this program, including Supervisor Salud Carbajal, Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum and school district Superintendent Brian Sarvis, who were at Monday’s news conference. The hundreds of public and private agencies that have received United Way presentations about the plan have also expressed their support, Didier said.

For the moment, the United Way — and the Santa Barbara community —  are still in the visioning process. Didier plans to have periodic news conferences to report the program’s progress every few months. The final report on the forums and the surveys will be completed next summer.

The first four meetings of the United Way Power of Partnership Initiative are 6-8 p.m. Wednesday at Girls Inc. of Carpinteria, 5315 Foothill Road, Carpinteria; 6-8 p.m. May 20 at Goleta Valley Community Center, 5679 Hollister Ave.; 6-8 p.m. May 21 at Braille Institute, 2031 De la Vina St.;
and 6-8 p.m. May 29 at Faulkner Gallery, Santa Barbara Public Library, 40 E. Anapamu St.

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