by Ann Wondergem
All too often within organizations we develop an internal language. This internal language allows us to communicate with one another and with like organizations. This internal language also can make it difficult, if not impossible, for others to understand the message we are attempting to communicate.
The other day, I was in a meeting attended by a diverse group of people. About mid-way through the meeting, we burst out in laughter realizing how challenging it was for us not to use acronyms and internal language. The laughter helped everyone feel more comfortable and allowed those in attendance to ask what do you mean? What does FAQ mean? (Frequently Asked Questions)
Therefore, in reviewing my assignment for this week’s United Way column which is to discuss prevention/intervention/crisis management/working poor; I scratched my head. "You want me to write about what?" Then I reflected back to the meeting and realized, we (United Way staff) often use these terms (prevention/intervention/crisis management/working poor) in the office when we discuss community needs. We assume when we use these terms in community presentations everyone attending understands the message we are attempting to share.
What is prevention? The action of stopping something from happening. At United Way this often includes researching possible systemic changes to address problems.
What is a systemic change? A change that takes into account all parts of the system including the interrelationships and interdependence of all the parts of the system. I like to think about building a house. If the kitchen design fails to include plumbing for the sink, the kitchen may look beautiful but it will not be functional.
What is intervention? An action that can be taken to help improve a situation or make things better.
What is crisis management? A crisis is usually seen as a negative. It has been described as an event that is unexpected or a surprise, creates uncertainty and is seen as a threat. Crisis management is a process or strategy to deal with the negative event. This could include providing a program, service or direct assistance to meet the immediate need such as housing the homeless, feeding the hungry or providing emergency housing during a flood.
What does ‘working poor’ mean? People, who are working and whose incomes fall below a given poverty line. Depending on how one defines "working" and "poverty," someone may or
may not be counted as part of the working poor. While poverty is often associated with joblessness, a significant proportion of the poor are actually employed. They are earning low wages and often have jobs or multiple jobs with few benefits. The ‘working poor’ face numerous obstacles that make it difficult for many of them to find and keep a job, save money, and maintain a sense of self-worth.
Why are these terms important within the United Way organization and to you? Because, United Way invests your financial support to help 22 agencies provide 49 programs. Programs like Parents as Teachers, a prevention program provided by the Family Resource Center, financial education, an intervention program provided by Consumer Counselling Services, and disaster services, a crisis management program provided by the Red Cross.
United Way also remains committed to creating positive long term change for our communities. In 2006, United Way joined with Aurora Health Care and St. Nicholas Hospital provided ‘seed’ funding to an organization to plan on how to address unmet health care needs. The result is Lakeshore Community Health Care, a federally qualified health care center. In United Way terminology, we call this a United Way Initiative.
In 2010, United Way began to study how to improve the food supply and delivery system for those in need, many of them the ‘working poor’. The focus of this initiative is to promote food security and healthier food options. (Food security is "when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life".)
Building on the success of these two initial initiatives and using information gathered through community assessments and various community conversations, United Way is embarking on a systemic change process with a focus on prevention. United Way will again partner with community organizations to study the viability of an early learning and mental health initiative. As stated in the United Way brochure, "Improving Sheboygan County with a Focus on Prevention."
We are embarking on a transformation process with a focus on prevention while continuing to support intervention and crisis management services. This will allow United Way to align investments to address tomorrow’s needs and opportunities.