“How do we stop tragedies like Sandy Hook Elementary from happening? I do not know,” Ryerson said of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn, last week. “There is not a secret answer where we can just roll out a program, an activity or words we can give someone to tell their children.”
Continued Ryerson, “What I do know is your work contributes to preventing these type of situations. I feel like these events are symptoms of greater core problems.”
Much of the impact made by nonprofits is difficult to determine. Ryerson said this is because analysts are attempting to prove a negative. If something does not happen, then how can the public know the reason why, he suggested.
Ryerson asked how nonprofits could show how their involvement makes a difference.
“The truth is, we don’t care, do we? If it does not happen, and we feel like we have been a part of the event not occurring, then that should be enough,” Ryerson said. “The work you do is incredibly valuable.”
He expressed his pain for the families and friends affected by the Sandy Hook shooting.
“Our hearts are broken. It was personal for my wife and I because we have children the same age as the victims,” Ryerson said.
Interagency members were asked what they could learn from the shooting.
“Our work is not done. Our work is needed. We need to get better and more efficient,” Ryerson said.
Recent surveys conducted by United Way assessed the needs of Bradley County and Cleveland residents. Four areas of focus are education, health, self-sustainability and crisis and support services. The Community Action Network at United Way works to connect organizations to meet these community needs.
“Almost 45 percent of the people asked in this community said they did not know where to go to get help,” Ryerson said.
He described a majority of humans as being survivors.
“They know they can call the Caring Place. Even if the Caring Place does not have what they are looking for, [it] might know somewhere that does,” Ryerson said.
The Community Action Network was designed to tighten the net of nonprofits in the area.
“We are the net. We are the net of support for the families in this community. ... That net is a little looser than we would like it to be. This allows families and individuals to fall through,” Ryerson said. “[CAN’s] goal is to tighten the net and get them where they should be.”
Ryerson then addressed the subject of outcomes with the agency heads.
“It is essentially an effort to invest in work that has impact. Outcomes are driven by data. For example, if we give out flu shots, then are there fewer cases of the flu in our county,” Ryerson said.
This is the United Way perspective, Ryerson said.
“We want to invest in a program to show they have an impact so we can report to the community,” Ryerson said. “More importantly, we want to show we are being good stewards. Most of our money is donated. So when you have $2 million donated to you every year, you feel a large obligation to spend wisely.”
Monetary requests of the local United Way often total $4 million. Organizations which can prove a need or prove the impact of their program are more likely to be awarded money. Ryerson said organizations are usually more focused on the output than the outcome.
“We know in our hearts serving those people in need is important and valuable ... What you do has impact on what we do in this community,” Ryerson said. “It is extremely important we continue to shift, continue to evolve ... continue to be a part of our community.”
Ryerson said if the community leaves the organizations behind then their impact is lost.
“If anything Friday [the Sandy Hook shooting] is a cry from our younger generation. We cannot leave them behind. We need to serve them, whether it is through prayers for those in Connecticut or through local impactful programs,” Ryerson said.
He closed with encouragement to the representatives.
“You are heroes today, because you are in systems which struggle to meet the needs of the people we serve and yet you continue to fight. You are heroes,” Ryerson said.