The new CEO of United Way of Allen County says as he works to better familiarize himself with the community, he is focused on helping the organization with its strategic shift in priorities. Robert Haworth began his tenure earlier this month after being named to the position in November. “My charge right now is to know the community and then trying to understand where those priorities of the United Way meet the needs of our neighborhoods.”
The organization announced last July a strategic task force was created in 2020 to identify and prioritize the issues faced by the community.
That study led to United Way of Allen County shifting to a new strategic focus on four priorities: educational opportunities, mental health access, food security, and housing stability.
Haworth, a former public school superintendent, said the educational focus ranges from early childhood to secondary education. United Way of Allen County Board Chair John Court said Haworth’s experience, particularly in education, was a key factor in his appointment to CEO.
“He had a unique experience coming from being a superintendent of schools around the state of Indiana, of being not only exposed from the school corporation standpoint to those four initiatives and the impact that it has on the kids, but ultimately in his capacity as superintendent, I think he got a chance to see the impact not only on the children but the entire family unit as well,” Court said. “He had a really good understanding of the minute details that can move the needle in those four areas.”
The mental health focus is another key for Haworth as well.
“I think, if anything, the awareness of mental health issues really was thrust into the forefront because of COVID,” he said. “We all knew they were there, but they really garnered the attention throughout Allen County, throughout Indiana, and throughout the United States.”
Haworth said food security and housing stability are not just issues facing Allen County, but the entire country.
“It’s pretty remarkable to think that one-third of our county live in what we call food deserts. I want to look at that and try to understand why that is,” he said. “So, I’m trying to get the lay of the land and also trying to understand where these priorities are heading and so, I’m trying to create some action plans for those.”
Court said the organization’s board and staff have been working since July to achieve their new goals, including changing the way they fund local agencies.
“It was a three-year cycle that we were on; we’ve gone down to a one-year cycle now,” he said. “It allows the United Way to be a little bit more nimble as the needs change in the community. What COVID taught us…was the need for some quick access and some flexibility when it comes to those dollars. And it’s allowing us to really focus on having some outcomes in those areas that we’re able to measure and track a lot more sufficiently.”
The organization expects to see early results from its first round of the new funding process in the coming weeks, but early feedback on the new priority focus is positive.
“We’re starting to see some of the community actually rally behind those as well. We’re seeing some partner agencies focusing in on those areas and having that impact, the conversations that are now happening amongst all levels of our community, from the business community government, to the not-for-profits, all focusing in on those four initiatives, and how we’re able to move the needle on that.”
Looking forward, Court said the United Way of Allen County is well positioned to build more momentum in achieving its new goals.