Washtenaw Coordinated Funders award over $4 million to programs addressing inequality

Someone born at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital whose parents turn left when they leave the hospital will have a very different life than if the child's parents turn right, says Pam Smith, president and CEO of United Way of Washtenaw County (UW Washtenaw).


That's one reason the Washtenaw Coordinated Funders recently gave out more than $4 million in grants to local nonprofits for programs that address racial and economic inequalities in Washtenaw County. Washtenaw Coordinated Funders is a private-public partnership between the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, Washtenaw Urban County, UW Washtenaw, the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF), and St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor.


Smith says that many people who support United Way think of poverty as something that happens elsewhere. But the American Community Survey shows that 15 percent of Washtenaw County residents are currently living below the federal poverty level.


The Washtenaw Coordinated Funders came together about eight years ago, though the list of partners has changed a few times over the years.


AAACF CEO Neel Hajra notes that the Coordinated Funders' private-public partnership is unique.


"A lot of communities have a collaboration within the philanthropy community, but Washtenaw County is very rare in this private-public aspect," Hajra says. "We're only aware of maybe two other public-private partnerships like this in the country."


Smith says the coordinated funding model allows all the partners to streamline the grant application process and leverage more dollars for organizations doing good work in the community.


During the latest funding cycle, the coordinated funders gave out $4.33 million to fund programs in four priority areas: aging, housing and homelessness, safety-net health and nutrition, and cradle to career (focusing on early childhood and school-aged youth) .


Awards ranged in size. Mentor2Youth was awarded the smallest amount, $13,600, for its "Future Leaders" project. The project serves Ypsilanti youth in grades one through six with a neighborhood-based program that provides educational workshops focused on life skills, academic enrichment, and college and career expos.


The largest amount, $285,000, went to the Child Care Network for its Family Support Program. The program awards childcare scholarships so children can develop the foundations for academic success while their parents work, attend school, or participate in other programs that will help them become self-sufficient.


Other programs focus on allowing older adults to continue to live at home, even as they face mobility challenges.


"Catholic Social Services has a home chore program that provides grab bars, leveling out steps into a house, or providing ramps," says Jillian Rosen, vice president for community investment at AAACF. "We've supported them in multiple years and will continue to support them, because it's so critical for maintaining aging in place."


This grant cycle funds two years' worth of programming for the nonprofits. Funding may be renewed for an additional year for organizations that return "a ton of value in terms of achieving our collective goals," Hajra says.


"We're trying to find that right balance of holding organizations accountable and also giving them the bandwidth to do great work once we're convinced they're showing results," he says.


A full list of recipients and award amounts is available through the Washtenaw Coordinated Funders website.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.