WILLMAR -- In a move aimed at better reflecting the people and the towns it serves, the United Way of Kandiyohi County has become the United Way of West Central Minnesota.
The expansion and the name change became official this week. The transition process -- forging new relationships and partnerships with 19 towns and hiring staff for regional outreach -- is getting under way, said Stacey Roberts, executive director of United Way of West Central Minnesota.
"It's exciting," she said. "We'll be able to look at funding new programs. ... We're in a strong position financially. We've had very successful campaigns and growth. We are expected to be able to do this."
She said the United Way board began studying the possibility of a regional expansion three years ago.
There was a recognition that Kandiyohi County is a regional center that draws workers from the surrounding area and provides services that cross county lines, said Nathan Streed, president of the board of directors.
"We were being asked by our donors. Many of them have offices in those areas or working relationships in those areas," he said. "There are people who work in Willmar and live outside the county, and people who live in Willmar but work outside the county. ... It only made sense."
Commuter patterns and economic and trade patterns were among the data that were studied, Roberts said.
Many of the agencies funded by United Way also serve an area greater than Kandiyohi County, she said.
"We are a business region. We are a health care region. We are a social services region," she said. "We are no longer just Willmar and Kandiyohi County. We serve a broader base."
Nineteen additional towns are joining Kandiyohi County under the umbrella of the new regional United Way. They are Belgrade, Benson, Bird Island, Brooten, Clara City, Cosmos, Danube, DeGraff, Elrosa, Gluek, Grove City, Lake Henry, Litchfield, Maynard, Olivia, Renville, Rosendale, Swift Falls and Terrace.
None is currently affiliated with a United Way.
People who live in these towns will start seeing some of the first expanded services through the United Way of West Central Minnesota this spring. One is the Imagination Library, a free monthly book program for children ages birth to 5. Another is the Gift in Kind warehouse that distributes donated home merchandise to individuals and families in need.
Two new employees who will be assigned to regional outreach should be in place by April or May, Streed said.
As terms expire on the board of directors, additional regional representation will be sought. Regional involvement in the community review process for allocating United Way funds also is a goal.
The first regional fund-raising campaign will take place this fall, and the first regional allocation of money will be in 2010.
It will be an opportunity for services to become more widely available to those who need them, Streed said. "The primary goal is to reach people who need help who aren't getting help right now."
It also could add more programs and services to the list of 53 agencies that already receive United Way funding.
"It is challenging economic times but in challenging economic times, there's more need," Roberts said.
"The more we collaborate, the better," Streed said.
He and Roberts said it will likely take time to become regionally known and to develop necessary partnerships with community leaders, CEOs and nonprofit organizations.
"We have to show our new communities that we're going to be serving their community. We'll be helping enhance their services and helping them in their philanthropic goals," Roberts said. "We hope people will trust us in this. I know it'll be good. I look forward to it."