- Associated Press - Friday, November 27, 2015

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - The United Way of St. Joseph County has decided to direct more money toward groups that are collaborating on projects aimed at reducing poverty in the northern Indiana area.

Leaders of the fundraising organization say it will target programs around South Bend that address early learning for children up to age 12, youth success for those ages 13 to 18, and how to maintain stable families for adults.

Charitable groups largely focus on their own missions, but the emphasis on fighting the causes of poverty will encourage them to think about ways to work together, United Way board President Chris Strafford told the South Bend Tribune (https://bit.ly/1Ieg4ax ).

“We’ve got so many great agencies doing such great work around St. Joseph County,” he said. “The strength of agencies when they partner together … is a powerful opportunity to have a bigger impact.”

The United Way board this year distributed nearly $1 million to 45 programs and will use its new priorities in deciding its 2016 grants. Donors will still be allowed to earmark their contributions for specific charities.

David Vanderveen, director of Hope Ministries and a representative for local agencies on the United Way board, said many of the United Way programs have already been focused on poverty.

Hope Ministries has started talking with potential partners for a United Way application, possibly to provide transportation for clients to employers and other important destinations. Transportation “has been an issue for people in poverty for a long time,” Vanderveen said.

Similar pushes toward collaboration around a common issue elsewhere in the country have shown it can take several years before agencies make it a natural part of their planning, he said.

Forty percent of households in St. Joseph County are struggling to afford the basic needs for survival, according to a study done last year through United Ways across the country and Rutgers University.

County United Way CEO Matt Harrington said the organization will commit to three years of funding for programs, an increase from the current one or two years. The changes also shift United Way beyond just an organization doling out money to one also coordinating goals, he said.

Some groups might not fit in the new funding system, but Harrington said he’s encouraged them to not change their missions.

“We haven’t had organizations say that they’re struggling to find a fit,” he said. “But we have heard from new organizations that are interested.”

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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