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Nancy Reigel, chairwoman of the United Way Vision Councils, describes the agency’s new focus to local leaders on Monday. Kellen Moore | Watauga Democrat.

Originally published: 2013-03-05 15:18:54
Last modified: 2013-03-06 09:17:29

United Way shares vision with leaders

Representatives of the High Country United Way shared their new vision for improving the health, income and education of local residents during an Intergovernmental Retreat on Monday in Boone.

Since September 2011, the United Way's Vision Councils have been analyzing the community's root problems and devising methods for combating them. Local experts were tapped to identify barriers and strategies to address those three primary issues: health, income and education.

Now, the United Way intends to use those priorities to guide its allocations and to facilitate changes that address the community's needs, rather than just reacting to them.

"We've been funding a lot of different programs," said Nancy Reigel, chairwoman of the United Way's Vision Councils. "We spread our wealth out very generously, but not very focused."

On Monday, elected representatives and staff from Watauga County, Boone, Blowing Rock, Seven Devils and Appalachian State University gathered at the ASU Athletics Center to hear more about the plans.

Findings about community needs were recapped by representatives of each Vision Council: Alice Salthouse and Bryan Belcher of the health council; Susan Jones and Joe Furman of the income council; and Gary Childers, Dick Jones and Melissa Phillips of the education council.

Jones, a former Watauga County Schools superintendent, said the United Way's process was different than others because it involved so many individuals and agencies in collaboration.

"I have been in offices where there were rows of notebooks gathering dust about all these plans," he said. "Planning is easy. Action is more difficult. And then seeing change from that action is really elusive to me, and I think we're getting there."

During the next three years, United Way will shift its funding process to correspond with the new priorities, Reigel said. This year, about 30 percent of its money will be put toward health, education and income, while another 60 percent will be allocated to existing partner agencies under the current process.

The following year, 60 percent will go toward the three priorities, then 90 percent the year after that, she said.

Each year, United Way intends to hold back 10 percent of its funding for emergency needs, Reigel said.

Reigel said she found the process helpful beyond just clarifying the organization's funding priorities.

"What we've done is we've brought community members to the table that have never been to that table before together," she said.

She also stated that the United Way may never achieve the ideal community it has dreamed of through this process -- but that's the beauty of the goals.

"This is not a task," Reigel said. "This is an ongoing process."