By: Kevin Zwick
CEO, United Way Bay Area
You have probably heard us say “Mobilize, Dismantle, and Build” when summarizing our mission: mobilizing the Bay Area to dismantle the root causes of poverty and build equitable pathways to prosperity. In the first few blogs of 2023, our 101st year of impact, we will dig deeper into the three elements of this mantra to give it additional context and meaning. You might think of it as an introductory (or reintroduction) course on United Way Bay Area and our method of impact. A kind of “UWBA 101” if you will. We’ll start with mobilize…
How does United Way Bay Area mobilize to fight poverty in the Bay Area? Through our very design, and our 100 years of service, we have built up and nurtured one of the most vast networks of caring in the region. For the past century, we have created trusted and effective relationships that support our neighbors and deliver impact. As the region has changed over these many decades, many have moved in and out of that network, yet United Way Bay Area endures through our continually evolving ability to connect so many different people and partners from across the region. In 2022 alone, we worked closely with over 250 community partners, enabling us to tackle poverty TOGETHER from multiple angles.
Recently, we have been especially aware of the importance of mobilizing the Bay Area. First, in the wake of unprecedented storms drenching so many parts of our region, we mobilized our 211 system and network to be a centralized resource for those needing support and seeking information on where to find help. Then, as we were collectively horrified by the most recent tragic wave of gun violence in California, particularly in Half Moon Bay and East Oakland, we immediately connected with our partners most directly serving those communities to understand how we could activate 211, our other resources, and our broader network to support the families and individuals so tragically impacted by these shootings. Not only do we stand in solidarity with those communities, but we are also UNITED in mobilizing the region to meet their most pressing needs.
Whether we’re addressing an emerging disaster or a persistent systemic issue, the enduring strength of UWBA is our ability to connect so many different people and partners from across the region to fight for a common goal. One of the ways we maintain these partnerships is by participating in over 100 coalitions throughout our region, from Solano County in the North to Santa Clara County in the South. Central to our work is our ability to activate these trusted relationships as we call on our partners, community leaders, and volunteers across our network in different ways to help meet the needs of our neighbors and drive our ongoing initiatives. Here are just a few examples:
Our Free Tax Help program continues to mobilize thousands of volunteers and hundreds of organizations to address poverty by helping individuals and families take advantage of important poverty-fighting programs like the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to maximize their filings and receive refunds that in some cases clients have described as “life-changing.”
SparkPoint mobilizes our network of community partners, leveraging the resources from our supporters to power a new way of moving people along on their personal pathways to prosperity. Together we provide services like financial coaching, long-term goal setting, and employment assistance, as well as access to food and housing services through our 22 sites across the region.
Our Census Drive in 2020 brought together a coalition of 91 partners to mobilize volunteers all over the Bay Area with no-knock canvassing and phone banking, to help support an accurate count of the individuals and families we serve through outreach throughout the communities where we work and live.
We mobilize those with lived experience facing housing insecurity, including those who have utilized United Way Bay Area programs and services – our UWBA Ambassadors – to share their insights as we shape our Housing Justice initiative and identify and support new community partners operating in this space.
Together, we continue to make an impact on poverty in many ways. The level of support we’ve been able to garner, especially during the recent years of the pandemic, illustrates how effective these programs can be when there is collaboration between different sectors within a community, which is why mobilization efforts are so crucial.
This mobilized collaboration shows up in our volunteer leadership as well. Our Board of Directors and our Advisory Council bring together and activate leaders from corporations, private foundations, public institutions, labor, and other local nonprofit leadership, combined with the invaluable lived experience of our Ambassadors. We benefit from mobilizing these leaders and their varied perspectives to inform and shape the direction of our work.
When we talk about mobilizing, about coming together to address needs, we’re also saying that we want the community to mobilize us. We want to be in the places we haven’t been previously and be an organization that continues to strive to support every Bay Area resident where they are. We are only as strong as the communities we serve, so we always come back to community as the foundation of everything we do. This is one of the reasons why we will continue our Town Hall series this year, visiting our neighbors throughout the Bay Are to check-in and hear directly from community members what they see as the most pressing needs and listen to their ideas for how to address them.
While we can collectively take pride in the progress we’ve made so far, there is still much work left to do when it comes to making lasting and equitable change for and within our Bay Area communities. This is why UWBA continues to seek out new partners who share their vision for dismantling the root causes of poverty in all its forms—economic insecurity being just one factor amongst many others including racism and inequality.
As long as we continue building on the longstanding relationships we’ve made and strengthening our network as it expands further into areas where need exists, there is no limit to what can be achieved. Together, we can mobilize to generate more resources, more volunteers, and more impact for those who need it most, as we commit to ending poverty in our lifetimes once and for all!