No matter what happens in the race for Mayor, the Greater Nashua region needs a strategic view to meet the challenges ahead.
Recently those of us over here at your local United Way have been doing a lot of soul-searching. The Greater Nashua area has changed dramatically over the last few years. And it’s not just the City of Nashua and the surrounding towns. The entire state is facing one crisis or another.
Heroin. Human Trafficking. Unemployment. Poverty. These are just a few of the issues Nashua is facing that won’t fix themselves, and our options are limited. Nonprofits in other states get significant support from State Government when local contributions don’t cover the need. We don’t have that luxury. Nashua relies heavily on the contributions of individuals and businesses to help support the organizations that address these challenges on a daily basis.
Unfortunately we have a difficult reality to face. NH is a tough state in which to be a nonprofit organization. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, our region has ranked DEAD LAST in the country for charitable giving since before the Great Recession, and our giving to charity has decreased by 34% since then.
Don’t get us wrong. A lot of Nashuans volunteer their time. And to be sure, our local nonprofits need volunteers. Volunteers help the Boys and Girls Club provide tutors and computer skills to children in need. Volunteers help the YMCA provide childcare while parents participate in programs. They help the Nashua Soup Kitchen deliver meals, assist people in need and sort and stock shelves.
But volunteering isn’t the entire story. Volunteering doesn’t pick up the need when Child Advocacy Center is working to prevent child abuse through community education programs. And volunteering can’t keep the lights on at the Front Door Agency. Many people rightly feel that their time is valuable, and they view the time they spend volunteering as their contribution to the community.
And—where other states, regions and communities have someone (government) to turn to, our nonprofits don’t. More than ever they need our financial support if we are going to keep the region’s safety net in place. This isn’t something to be proud of, but it’s the reality of where we live, and part of why the United Way of Greater Nashua is here.
Organizations like Bridges, The Youth Council and Big Brothers Big Sisters do an incredible job supporting the community day in, day out; year in and year out. But they need more support, and that’s where we come in. More on that in a minute.
First, we’d like to make an important point that may not necessarily be clear to you. We aren’t like other United Ways.
How “they” do it.
United Way Worldwide has a very clear mission: They’re focused on advancing the common good by creating opportunities for all. And when you’re an organization that’s made up of as many diverse communities as they are, it’s important that you take a very broad view of that. From their perspective, the common good is best achieved by focusing on supporting programs in the following three areas:
Education – cradle-to-career education strategies that provide a firm foundation at an early age and continue to help develop our children into successful adults.
Income – empowering people to get on stable financial ground with proven methods like job training, financial wellness classes and more.
Health – promoting healthy eating and physical activity, expanding access to quality health care and integrating health into early childhood development.
How “we” do it.
While we fully support the larger organization’s approach to our Nation’s challenges, we didn’t feel that they necessarily reflect the direct needs of OUR community. Being local, we are able to truly channel the community values that strengthen our City, the surrounding communities, and our state. Those include:
Responsiveness: Providing a helping hand exactly when and where it’s needed, and will have the greatest impact.
Local Control: Decisions are made by local volunteers who know our community’s needs and set priorities that make sense for us.
Effectiveness: Programs that we fund measure results and provide the data to prove their impact.
In conducting an independent assessment of the needs of Nashua, a group of volunteers comprised of community leaders, caregivers, and volunteers determined that Nashua’s future would be best served if we focused on specific areas of need:
Poverty: 30% more families in the Greater Nashua area live in poverty today than they did 10 years ago. Hungry families don’t perform as well on the job, and don’t do as well in school. Rather than deliver a hand-out that lasts a day, a week or even a month, we support programs that help create lasting change, like the Transitional Housing program at the Front Door Agency, that helps women break the cycles of poverty and homelessness for themselves and their children through education, counseling and teaching of self-reliance skills.
Health-related Issues: TWO-THIRDS OF NASHUANS ARE OBESE OR OVERWEIGHT. Think about that for a second. Obesity leads to increased healthcare costs, decreased job performance, and dramatically raises the chance of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and strokes. We helped establish the WE CAN! program at the Amherst St School that helps families get more exercise and learn good eating habits in a practical way.
Substance Abuse: 40% of teens in the Greater Nashua area have consumed alcohol in the LAST MONTH. Teens who abuse alcohol or drugs are at greater risk to commit crimes and don’t perform as well in class, and may not grow up to be strong, contributing citizens of the region. United Way of Greater Nashua is tackling this issue with the Nashua Prevention Coalition, including dozens of local agencies and the federal government through a five-year Drug Free Communities program.
Domestic and sexual violence: 33.4% of women, and 24% of men in New Hampshire have experienced a physical assault by an intimate partner. Beside the obvious human toll, abuse continues the cycles of abuse and neglect, impacting the affected person’s potential. We partner with Bridges to help survivors break free of the violence they face and to support them as they break the cycle of abuse for themselves and their children.
While all of our local nonprofits are doing amazing work to support the needs of our community, none of them is equipped to conduct the robust community assessment that is needed to steer us in the right direction. And that brings us back to the point of all of this:
The United Way of Greater Nashua provides a unique, strategic view of Nashua and surrounding areas that no other organization is equipped to provide. We don’t look at just helping a few people rise above their current situation, we don’t look to hand them a solution—we look at the critical challenges our community as a whole faces, and we work to support organizations that create lasting solutions to empower people in helping themselves.
I love our community and I am grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had, including the opportunity to be involved with our local United Way for more than 20 years now. I’m also grateful for the people in our community who donate their time and money to help our neighbors who aren’t as fortunate. BUT WE CAN DO BETTER. Our local nonprofit organizations are doing the best they can with what they have, but they need all of us to help them do more.
I ask you to reach out to our group of volunteers at the United Way today to learn how you can be an advocate and spread the word about the Crisis our community is facing, and what you, your friends, and family can do to help. It may be as simple as sharing a message on Facebook, or volunteering for a few hours at a local nonprofit. Regardless, every effort will help grow our city and help it return to the vibrant community it once was.