YMCA Stride program

The Mankato Family YMCA STRIDE program is one of three new programs for which Greater Mankato Area United Way has allocated funding for 2016. File photo

MANKATO — Greater Mankato Area United Way will distribute more than $1.4 million to 32 local nonprofits in 2016, contingent upon a successful campaign this fall.

The organization last month completed its annual allocations process during which it determined distribution of its funds. It earmarked $1,439,225 for the nonprofits, allocating funding for each agency that applied and fulfilling about 89 percent of all requests. The money will go toward 51 programs run by the agencies.

“When agencies apply, they apply for specific programs,” said Director of Community Impact Elizabeth Harstad, “so we're really trying to meet those targeted needs.”

United Way staff did not release the specific funding amounts for each partner agency, citing privacy concerns. But funding amounts ranged from a few thousand dollars to more than $200,000 for the Mankato Family YMCA, Harstad said.

United Way is the biggest private-sector funder of health and human services in the region, rallying the community each year through its campaign. It receives donations from thousands of individuals and businesses and impacts about one in three people in Blue Earth, Nicollet and parts of Le Sueur and Waseca counties, it says.

The final funding amounts hinge on the success of the 2016 campaign, which officially starts Sept. 2.

United Way has set a goal of raising $1.95 million during the campaign after missing its goals the past two years. It is appealing to young professionals and retirees and has hosted its first-ever men's event and has planned a human foosball tournament to drum up interest.

Monthslong process

Harstad led the 2016 allocation process, along with United Way Board of Directors member Tanya Ange and the help of nearly 70 volunteers. The volunteers divided into eight “impact teams,” each of which evaluated a certain category of programs.

The volunteers considered a variety of factors when evaluating a program, including: its impact on the community, its capability to provide services effectively and efficiently, whether it was a duplication of a service provided by another organization and if it could sustain without United Way funding, according to a summary provided by Hartsad. They visited the nonprofits in April and May.

“They're always looking overall at what is an agency's ability to sustain without United Way funding,” Harstad said. “… If there's a greater need to have United Way funding, they'll prioritize that.”

Chairs from each of the teams determined United Way's final funding recommendations, which the board approved in June.

United Way will raise the funds during its campaign, during which time it limits the fundraising partner agencies can do on their own.

It will distribute the funds in 2016. Some agencies will receive 12 monthly payments while others will receive quarterly funding, Harstad said.

She said United Way will adjust funding amounts if need be when it approves its budget in February.

MRCI gives back

United Way allocated about $48,000 less to partner agencies in 2016 than it did in 2015. However, four nonprofits did not request 2016 funding after receiving a combined $72,000 in 2015.

Those four are: The Committee Against Domestic Abuse, Creative Play Place in St. Peter, Harry Meyering Center and MRCI WorkSource.

MRCI decided it would raise funds independently of United Way, even though the need is still there, CEO Brian Benshoof said. He said that will allow United Way to better fund some of the smaller nonprofits that don't have the ability to raise their own funds.

"We'll continue to be really strong partners with them and continue to support them and campaign for them," Benshoof said.

MRCI also allowed United Way to reallocate some of its 2015 funds to other nonprofits, Kaus said. “It's a beautiful thing that they're doing,” she said.

CADA didn't apply because the fundraising blackout period conflicted with Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, its biggest month of the year, Executive Director Renita Robinson said.

“It's just not feasible for us to kind of have our hands tied during that time,” Robinson said, noting her appreciation for United Way.

CADA used the 2015 United Way funding to help support a licensed psychologist, who offered support groups and cognitive therapy. Robinson said CADA will rely on community support to ensure it keeps those services available.

Harry Meyering Center has been a longtime United Way partner agency, Harstad said, but only received $1,500 in 2015. The organization decided it wasn't worth going through the application process for such a small amount.

Executive Director Lori Weinberg said the center is still collaborating with United Way, noting its participation in the Week of Action last month and plans to hold a large United Way rally.

Creative Play Place, a playroom for kids in St. Peter, was in a similar position. The organization only received $2,200 this year, Harstad said, and didn't have a way to measure the outcomes of their program, which United Way requires of partner agencies.

New programs

United Way has allocated funding for three new programs in 2015: The Mankato Family YMCA's STRIDE program, member scholarships at the Lake Crystal Area Recreation Center and school readiness scholarships in St. Peter Public Schools.

STRIDE is an after-school program for elementary-age boys during which they train for a 5K while learning life lessons. The program expanded from 44 boys last fall to more than 65 in the spring.

The YMCA will host the program at five sites this fall and will host a second STRIDE program for boys going into sixth through eighth grades.

United Way allocated $12,000 for the program, YMCA Executive Director John Kind said, which will help cover the curriculum, staff, transportation and more.

“This is a really important program for the boys and our community,” said Cheryl Hamond, director of social responsibility. “It's just an all-encompassing program that they get so much from it.”

The YMCA also received $40,400 for its Brother Sister mentoring program; $8,000 for school-based mentoring; $14,600 for the Chesley Roller Sports Park; and $131,600 for financial assistance, Kind said.

He said about 15 percent of the YMCA's 9,200 members receive financial assistance.

The Lake Crystal Area Recreation Center has been allocated $6,000 for member scholarships, Executive Director Ryan Yunkers said. It previously didn't have money set aside for scholarships, he said.

“With folks that are lower income, one of the first things to go would be something like the rec center, something they would consider optional,” Yunkers said. “Sometimes people see it as an extra versus something that's essential to their health.”

St. Peter Public Schools has been allocated $12,000 for its school readiness program, said Ytive Prafke, administrator for the district's early childhood program. She said the funding will be used for scholarships and to subsidize the costs of the program.

The district charges families a base rate of $120 a month without transportation to keep the program affordable, she said, which does not cover the entire cost of the program. It maintains the program through state funding and other grants, she said.

Pushing greater Mankato

Greater Mankato Area United Way also appears to be making a push to cover more of the surrounding counties.

Lawyer Paul Tanis donated office space in St. Peter to the organization, Kaus said, in which they met for the first time a couple of weeks ago. She also said there is a possibility of opening office space in Waseca.

Greater Mankato Area United Way expanded to cover the entirety of Waseca County after Waseca Area United Way's closure a few weeks ago.

It had already funded eight of the 19 programs Waseca Area United Way had funded and an additional 17 programs that serve Waseca County residents, Harstad said.

“We're doing a tremendous amount with a very small group of people,” Kaus said, noting the strength of their volunteers.

“I feel it's our responsibility to embrace all the area that's under our umbrella and help those in need.”

Folllow Nate Gotlieb on Twitter @NateGotlieb

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