United Way, community foundation team up during crisis

To support the organizations that support Johnson County, two longtime service groups are teaming up during this unprecedented time.

The United Way of Johnson County and Johnson County Community Foundation announced a partnership in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

The pandemic has taken a toll Johnson County has never seen before.

Schools are closed, businesses are shuttered and thousands are out of work. Attempts to contain the virus have changed the way everyone lives their daily lives.

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At this tumultuous time, people are in dire need of the social services that local nonprofits provide. The problem is, those groups that people rely on are suffering their own crises.

By working together, the local United Way and community foundation intend to find out what the specific needs of the public are, and better provide services to them.

"Our mission is to organize caring people to identify and meet human needs in our community. We’re organizing, and we’re trying to meet needs," said Nancy Lohr Plake, executive director of the United Way of Johnson County.

Nearly every facet of the Johnson County community has been touched by the two organizations. The United Way of Johnson County raises more than $1 million dollars every year to distribute to local communities.

The Johnson County Community Foundation is a philanthropic group that builds community endowment, creates and oversees grants to address a variety of needs and helps provide leadership on key community issues. Last year, the group distributed more than $242,000 in grants.

Already, both organizations had been active in addressing the coronavirus crisis in different ways. The community foundation launched a school relief campaign to help feed students, and an emergency relief fund to assist nonprofits throughout the county. In addition, the organization is working to push out all agency and designated grants as quickly as possible.

"We didn’t want to just assume anything. No one has ever seen anything like this in our lifetime, and hopefully we never will again," said Gail Richards, president and CEO of the Johnson County Community Foundation.

The United Way has created a special website to update people about community meals, agency closures and ways to get help.

The partnership between the United Way and the community foundation emerged as it became clear that the coronavirus was going to cause severe disruption throughout the county. The organizations work closely together throughout the year, collaborating to make sure they’re best serving agencies and meeting the needs of local residents. They have also teamed up on past disasters such as the 2008 flood.

On March 20, a collaborative team comprised of representatives from both agencies met for the first time to start planning and prioritizing ways to meet the most immediate needs. 

"We have had that long relationship, and it was just a natural partnership for us," Richards said. "It’s been strong, and we wanted to continue helping the community the best way we could."

The first step in helping people through the crisis was to figure out what exactly the most pressing needs are at this time. The collaborative team put together a survey, which was sent to every social service agency in the county. The survey would determine what organizations needed at this moment, and what they anticipate needing in the coming weeks and months.

In addition to determining where the greatest needs are, the survey helped gauge the needs of the agencies themselves, Plake said.

Many nonprofit groups had events and fundraisers planned for March, April and May. The coronavirus has forced them to reschedule or cancel those events, severely impacting the revenue they rely on to operate.

"We wanted to know what impact this is having on them, particularly their financial health, how it impacts them on delivering services and the changes in procedures they’ve had," Plake said.

When the surveys come back, the United Way and community foundation will have a roadmap for providing assistance. They also plan to revisit those agencies with additional surveys every few weeks, to gauge if new issues or problems have emerged.

The United Way and community foundation are also researching the government support and resources that have been made available at the state and federal levels.

Initially, four areas of research are the most important: unemployment benefits and how those can be accessed by county residents; the federal stimulus package and what exactly that provides; how small businesses are being assisted during the crisis; and what kind of relief is available for nonprofits.

"We see that one of the biggest needs is going to be financial assistance for individuals and families. What we’re doing in those four areas is really trying to figure out where the gaps are," Plake said.

The response to the crisis is going to be fluid, and will likely change many times in the coming weeks. But local officials remain confident they have the resources and abilities to help the people, businesses and agencies that need it most.

"A lot’s going to happen. So we want to be on top of that," Plake said.

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Assistance during the COVID-19 crisis

The United Way of Johnson County has created a listing of available resources for the community, including where to get food, community meals, children’s services, employment resources, information for small businesses, family support, health services, transportation and senior services.

The listing can be found at uwjc.org/covid19.

The United Way is also operating its Helpline.

People who need assistance in Johnson County can get information, referral and advocacy.

Those needing assistance should call the Helpline at 317-738-4636 to receive referrals to appropriate community resources.