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.