Berkshire United Way works with the community to address complex social problems by leading countywide coalitions and investing in programs and services.
The importance of having comprehensive and well-reported data in these efforts cannot be understated. It is the measure of everything that we strive to accomplish, from how our own team identifies community baselines and gauges success, to how we determine which programs and activities best lead to the desired outcomes in early childhood literacy, positive youth development, and financial stability.
One recent success story comes from Berkshire Children and Families' Young Family Corridor of Care Initiative, where a young teen mother was able to successfully obtain her high school diploma, earn her cosmetology certification, and secure employment at a local residential school with the help of this great program.
She also received budgeting help, peer support, and advocacy that allowed her to truly excel in her life and career, providing a solid foundation for her daughter despite what began as less-than-ideal circumstances. This is only one example of the over 20,000 people this and other Berkshire United Way-funded programs are able to reach.
Of course, we recognize that no single organization, no matter how innovative or effective, can accomplish population-level change on its own, and so we adopted the collective impact framework for creating social change.
Our ambitious vision to have all Berkshire County residents self-sufficient, proud of, active and engaged in the community requires broad, cross-sector participation, with a common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, and continuous communication with a backbone organization managing the process.
One aspect of this is that our funded partners are required to provide measurable results so that we as an organization can show our donors, in no uncertain terms, where their money is going.
More importantly, what their investment is accomplishing: successes like 95 percent of youth participating in Berkshire United Way-funded college- and work-ready activities are on track to graduate high school, or that 83 percent of children maintained or progressed socially and emotionally in Berkshire United Way-funded quality early childhood education programs.
Having this sort of data at the ready recently contributed to the leveraging of $80,000 in state funding to increase free access to early childhood programs for more low-income families in Pittsfield and North Adams.
A critical piece of data collection is the program monitoring visit, an annual assessment that all of our funded partners participate in. For each visit, one Berkshire United Way staff member, one board member, and one community volunteer observe a program in action and take a tour of the facility. The program representatives respond to a comprehensive list of questions where they're asked to give specifics on the success — and challenges — of the program being reviewed.
The group then meets to discuss the outcome of the visit and provides a written assessment to be shared with the organization and our board of directors. Funded partners are provided the opportunity to address any concerns if necessary.
We're happy to say that in the most recent round of monitoring visits, over two-thirds of funded partners are meeting program, data collection and contract expectations.
"The monitoring process is a validation of the great work we do with early childhood education, positive youth development and strengthening families," Kelly Marion, CEO of the Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center, told us. "We see progress on a daily basis, but to have members of the community come in and review the programs soup to nuts really gives us a boost.
"We appreciate the opportunity to talk one on one with the teams that come in and answer their questions, to educate them at times about the challenges we face doing this work and of the success stories," she said. "We are investing in human capital within our programs and to measure our progress through data collection drives our work, ensuring that it is purposeful, on track and generates positive impact in our community."
Having an impact
Ananda Timpane, executive director of Railroad Street Youth Project, added: "Monitoring visits are an opportunity to share the experience of Railroad Street Youth Project programs with community members and Berkshire United Way staff in ways that bring it to life for everyone involved. It is critical to us as youth workers to know that what we do is having the impact our young people deserve."
It's easy to get swallowed up in a news cycle that challenges us with tragedies and startling statistics at every turn. Having the strong feedback loop between Berkshire United Way, our funded partners, community volunteers, donors and board members is how we are able to ensure that there is plenty of demonstrable achievement to make our community optimistic for the future.
Accountability is an essential ingredient to success; without it, we have no bar to surpass and no new goals to achieve. We must always strive to progress as a community, and there's no better way to do so than knowing what works and where improvement is needed most.
For more information and to learn how you can give, advocate or volunteer, please visit us online at www.berkshireuniteway.org.