Introducing the new United Way

United Way of Metropolitan Dallas is reaching out to the LGBT community. We must reach back and answer the agency’s call to action if we want to make our community the best that it can be

 

ANDY SMITH  |  Special Contributor

Many of us in the LGBT community are familiar with United Way. However, if you’ve not followed them closely recently, you might not realize they’re changing the way they do business.

They’ve gone from being an organization that collects funds in the workplace and distributes money to charities to one that is focused on making a lasting impact in our community.

Additionally, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas is actively seeking to reflect the face of our community in its leadership, staff, volunteers, donors and service providers. They want everyone, including the LGBT community, to join with them to enact positive, measured change.

To borrow from a car commercial, “This is not your father’s United Way.”

United Way isn’t just talking, they are actively working to be a true partner to the LGBT community. For example, they have added gender identity and expression to their EEO statement, which already included sexual orientation. They also walked in the Alan Ross Freedom Parade, participated in the 2010 Out & Equal Workplace Summit, recruited openly LGBT persons to serve on the grant allocations panels and are actively looking for openly LGBT candidates for their board and campaign cabinet.

Also, many people may not know that AIDS Arms has been a United Way partner agency for 19 years and the Resource Center of Dallas for 10 years.

After months of engagement with a wide variety of local civic and community leaders, our local United Way has launched a bold new venture called United2020. The plan is centered on three key areas:  Education, Income and Health. Over the next decade they hope to accomplish the following:

• Education: Ensuring that 50 percent more students are prepared to succeed beyond high school graduation.

• Income: Lifting 250,000 individuals out of poverty, and keeping them out.

• Health: Improving our region’s health through expanded access to care, promoting healthy behaviors and preventative programs.

In a historic departure from the traditional model of a closed group of “partner” agencies, United Way has opened its funding application process to all nonprofit agencies that can make substantial strides toward achieving the 2020 goals. This change has resulted in grant applications from more than 70 new organizations, many specifically serving the LGBT community.

This new open process and increased competition for dollars is critical — yielding stronger programs with better outcomes.

The plan’s success will require support from every sector of our community. This is why United Way is specifically reaching out to Dallas’ LGBT community and inviting us to engage with them in the United 2020 work by giving, advocating and volunteering.

United Way’s work will get done through active and meaningful partnerships, collaborations and programs that are squarely pointed at changing conditions that impact our daily lives. If you think about the three focus areas, they will directly affect the LGBT community.

Without a quality education, it is virtually impossible for a gay or lesbian youth to find a job. Improving our region’s health means supporting the health and medical services of the Resource Center Dallas, a United Way agency that’s a leader in HIV/AIDS education, prevention and treatment.

In short, the “Live United” call to action gives us the best chance at building a community that truly is a great place for all to live and prosper. If executed properly, this plan will provide a roadmap for our community’s future.

The new United Way is also busy removing roadblocks and obstacles to educational opportunities, job training and expanded access to healthcare. They’re advocating change to unnecessary, unfair or discriminatory laws that impede the ability of someone to make a good life in our region, while championing legislation critical to the success of United 2020.

For example, United Way is actively lending support to the anti-bullying bill now before the Texas Legislature, an LGBT advocacy effort closely connected to our Education goal.

To help ensure that they are on the right track with these new approaches, United Way has contracted with the Center for Urban Policy Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas to provide ongoing independent evaluation of their efforts. They will publish an annual community scorecard, which will detail progress and challenges.

This will hold them more accountable and inclusively engage others to in their work.

Do we simply stand by? Or do we accept this call to action, and rally to address these serious issues our community faces?

As an active United Way volunteer, I can tell you that we have an excellent chance to make this work with the right support. None of this happens without you. None of this happens without widespread commitment and focus to make the North Texas area one of the best places to live and thrive in our country.

Andy Smith, LGBT community activist, is the director of Corporate Philanthropy for Texas Instruments Incorporated and leads United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ LGBT Partnership Committee.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

LifeWalk: A big party for a big anniversary

20th annual LifeWalk steps off Oct. 10, will benefit 9 ASOs

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

Lifewalk
WALKING FOR A CAUSE | Participants in the 20th annual LifeWalk in October can choose any one of 10 partner organizations to benefit from the funds they raise.

Twenty years is a long time for a fundraising event to stay active, not to mention successful. And a 20th anniversary calls for a special celebration.

And that’s exactly what AIDS Arms has planned for the 20th annual LifeWalk set for Sunday, Oct. 10 at Lee Park.

As the event marks its 20th year, AIDS Arms Executive Director Raeline Nobles said, “One of the things we wanted to do, right out of the gate, was increase our partnerships within the nonprofit community, to increase the number of partner agencies that would benefit from LifeWalk.

“We had four partner agencies last year. This year, we have nine. There are 10 organizations, counting AIDS Arms,” she said.

LifeWalk was created in 1991 as a fundraiser for Oak Lawn Community Services. When that agency folded, AIDS Arms took over, each year inviting other AIDS service organizations in the community to participate.

Nobles said organizers this year made a point to reach out to all the ASOs still in existence that had benefited from AIDS Arms in the past, asking them to participate again.

And the nine that are partnering with AIDS Arms for the event have the opportunity to add significantly to their coffers, she said.

“Every partner agency gets all the tools they need to have a successful LifeWalk team,” Nobles said. “They can potentially make a lot of money for themselves. It’s sort of the same model as the Black Tie Dinner. With Black Tie, beneficiaries can more or less write their own check, depending on how many tables they sell, how many raffle tickets they sell and how many volunteer hours they put in.

“What they get in return is the infrastructure for a very established event here in Dallas, and they can use that to benefit their organizations,” Nobles said.

It’s very similar with LifeWalk: Each agency works to get people to raise money and walk, and the money raised in an agency’s name goes to that agency, she explained.

Nobles said that LifeWalk strives each year to bring in enough sponsorships to completely cover the costs of staging the event, and they have reached that goal again this year. That means that “every penny that the walkers earn” goes to either AIDS Arms or one of the nine other beneficiary organizations.

“Of every dollar the beneficiaries raise, they keep 75 cents. The other 25 cents comes back to LifeWalk for next year’s event. That allows us to create an investment account to secure the future of the event, and it gives every beneficiary unrestricted funds to use however they need to,” Nobles said.

LifeWalk, Nobles continued, is a great example of the benefits of working together.

“The issue of collaboration is so important in this [HIV/AIDS] community. We all depend on each other so heavily these days, and this is one more opportunity for us to come together under one cause and help each of our individual organizations grow stronger .

“We [as organizations] may be very different from one another. We may not always agree with each other. But we are all here for the same reason,” she said. “And LifeWalk is an excellent platform to show the community that we can and do work together and partner together on behalf of our clients.”

In another nod to the past, all of the previous LifeWalk chairs have been invited to participate in the 20th anniversary celebration, Nobles said.

“We are hunting down, if you will, all the previous chairs, and we have been able to locate quite a few of them. Many of them still live in Dallas,” she said. “There is a group of previous chairs who have reaching out to the community, working to remind folks about LifeWalk, telling them, ‘Hey, this is why we were involved, and still are involved, in this event. This is the impact it can have on our community.”

Nobles said it has been gratifying for her to hear the stories of past LifeWalk chairs and to hear that so many of the people who were involved in past years are still supportive of the event.

“Many of them still attend LifeWalk every year, and they have some very personal reasons for doing so. It has been very moving for us to hear those stories,” she said. “Many of them will be at the 20th anniversary, and we are very proud that we can have them there to let everyone acknowledge the history and their contributions and what they have been able to build through this event.”

LifeBark — the LifeWalk co-event created several years ago to allow people to bring their dogs to the event and use their pets to widen their fundraising options — is “still howling,” Nobles said.

“There will be registration available for all the pups who want to walk and wag their tails for a good cause. There will be doggie games and treats and all kinds of vendors. And Operation Kindness will be there, too, with dogs available for adoption,” she noted.

LifeWalk representatives will be selling raffle tickets for the 2011 Mercedes Benz that will be raffled off during Black Tie Dinner in November, and there will be free HIV testing available to anyone who wants to get tested. Plus, there will be LifeWalk raffles for a new living room suite and for two American Airlines tickets to “anywhere American flies,” Nobles said.

The Buster Brown Band, which Nobles described as a “lively jazz band,” will be entertaining in Lee Park for LifeWalk, as will Darcell, a Dallas native who is coming back from Los Angeles to perform. And Dallas Pride Cheer will be on hand as well.

Nobles said AIDS Arms is proud that LifeWalk is one of the first local events to get the “family-friendly” seal of approval from the Human Rights Campaign’s local Family Equality Committee.

“There will be lots of things for the kids and teenagers to do, as well as the adults,” she said.

Although some teams have been working for months to raise money for LifeWalk, there will be plenty of people there walking as individuals, too, Nobles said.

And individuals will be able to register and participate right up until the time the walk steps off.

“All you have to do is show up at Lee Park that day and pay the $30 registration fee and get the T-shirt that comes with the registration fee,” Nobles said. “You can download the form from LifeWalk.org and turn it in that day, or you can register online, or you can just come out and register that day. Just show up at noon and walk. It’s as easy as that.”

Although LifeWalk is permeated with an air of celebration and fun, Nobles said she also wants people to remember the very serious reasons behind the walk.

“The HIV epidemic is doing nothing but growing right now in Dallas,” she said. “There are some great things happening to help fight that epidemic, and LifeWalk is a very important avenue for people to use to help us reach the goals we’ve set to be successful for our clients.

“We hope everyone will come on out, enjoy the anniversary celebration, enjoy the party and enjoy doing something good for somebody who really needs your help.”

For more information, go online to LifeWalk.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 27, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas