UNION COUNTY, NJ — The county freeholder board has joined forces with the United Way of Greater Union County to launch an initiative that will help those who often fall through the cracks when basic needs are not being met.
With quality of life the focus of the new program called the Focus on Families Initiative, the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders is handing over $196,000 this year to a cause that will focus on economic development, workforce development and family support to assure those most in need can easily access resources they need.
Although the majority of the county’s 540,000 residents are faring well, there are some that are not and continue to fall through the cracks because they just do not know help is available.
The United Way of Greater Union County, through ongoing community needs assessment, identified a number of these areas within the county where the very basics for family success continue to remain challenging.
Unemployment is high in these areas and inadequate housing often makes the strength of the family “veil thin.”
“When families successfully raise their children from birth to become strong, responsible and productive young adults, we all win. We win economically, we win with safe, thriving communities and we win by securing our future,” said Freeholder Board Chairman Mohamed Jalloh, pointing out that by investing in these families, they in turn will be able to raise “full, responsible, productive and contributing members of their communities.”
James W. Horne, Jr., President and CEO of the United Way of Greater Union County, explained that they already have created a family strengthening network that will maximize and leverage all available resources on behalf of these children and families in need.
“We have systems in place and now we have to use them more effectively and efficiently. The network will help hundreds and we all as a community benefit from the common good of helping all families thrive,” said Horne, adding among the features of this network are Family Success Centers and the Union County Family Forum.
Horne explained that as the economy improves, despite the scarcity of new public funding, non-profits, public and private sectors, faith-based and civic leaders, can all work together to coordinate efforts and resources that strengthen families.
This, coupled with recommendations by the United Way that the county focus on communities of greatest concern, will further aid in putting in place a plan of action.
Horne said the county has shown an interest in more comprehensive, cross-cutting strategies to better serve Union County residents and the next step is for the freeholders to appoint a Focus On Families Task Force.
Launching the task force will take what Horne described as “catalytic leadership.” This will include the formation of a relatively small, but representative task force by Jalloh that serves as a catalyst for community mobilization.
The action plan would include identification and analysis of ongoing existing efforts, determining partners, identifying promising practices and challenges, short term actions and longer term strategies to link economic development, workforce development and family support, especially at the municipal level.
Time is always a consideration when launching new programs that involve public-private partnerships, because they can and do get bogged down in details. This effort is no different, except there are safeguards in place that prevent this from happening.
In order to ensure there is no delay in the help that is needed, the task force and all partners would recommend quick steps to the freeholder board for immediate action.
For example, these immediate actions would specifically target planning and allocation processes, promoting public awareness and dialogue, targeting interested partnerships or pursuing opportunities for pilot projects for programming.
The task force also could pave the way for creating links between Family Success Centers and the One-Stop Career Center to find and promote after school programs for youth, employer-based child care and financial empowerment for families, Horne said.
Accountability has become a hot button word lately, considering the New Jersey State Comptroller’s recent scathing report that blasted the county for not paying attention to how the Union County Alliance, also a non-profit, which was spending more than $200,000 annually in taxpayer dollars. The United Way fully intends to avoid that scenario by ensuring accountability from the start.
For example, they suggested the task force be charged with setting goals and measuring progress, while developing methods for reporting results to the public. At the end of the year the task force would report to the freeholder board on their progress and feasibility and sustainability of the initiatives they are taking on.
This includes development of a more permanent infrastructure that would allow growth and deepening the initiative.
The freeholder board is fully behind this initiative and they gave their stamp of approval at last week’s meeting by approving the $196,000. Although the amount tentatively was $246,000, this was reduced prior to adoption of the measure.