United Way Announces First Focused Grants

Grants Fuel Equitable Health Programs and Help Community Recover from COVID

The $10 million gift United Way of Berks County received from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott in 2020 arrived as the community was facing unprecedented demands for help caused by the pandemic’s social, health and economic upheaval.

With the support of this gift, United Way established three types of community grant opportunities to expand community impact work beyond the organization’s annual program investments. COVID Response-related grants supported immediate and essential needs, helping those impacted the most by the pandemic. Impact Grants were awarded to seven nonprofit recipients to expand programming and capacity to serve Berks County’s most vulnerable residents, including: Berks County Mediation Prevention Project, program of MidPenn Legal; Berks Latino Workforce Development Corporation; Helping Harvest; Street Medicine Program, a program of the Reading Hospital; Strong Program, managed by Mary’s Shelter; PA 211 East; and Second Street Learning Center.

Most recently, United Way’s board of directors approved the first of its Focused Grants aiming to close gaps in health inequities. “We recognize the impact of COVID will be felt for the next several years. These Focus Grants present new opportunities to reduce the disparities in areas exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Tammy White, President of United Way of Berks County.

Focused Grant recipients are:

  • Berks Counseling Center (BCC) received $186,200 for the first year of a three-year funding plan, totaling more than $678,000. The grant will allow the agency to increase services to meet the growing mental health needs of Berks County children. Since the onset of the pandemic, the mental health of children and youth has been front and center, with young children, teens, LGBTQ youth, and children of color being particularly vulnerable to negative mental health consequences of the pandemic, according to the Center for Disease Control. BCC experienced a 48% increase in treating children between 2019 and 2021, with additional increases seen to-date this year. With the grant, BCC plans to hire new staff and establish an Intensive Outpatient Program to include health/wellness activities and promote family engagement in treatment. BCC conducts community outreach to schools, pediatric providers, juvenile probation and other child/adolescent entities.
  • A second Focused Grant was awarded to the LGBT Center of Greater Reading in the amount of $128,400 for year one of a three-year funding request totaling over $377,000. Funding will expand staffing to support a multi-pronged program centered on counseling, physical health impacts, including access to food and personal hygiene needs, and supports for individuals identified on the Autism spectrum. The Center is the only organization providing inclusively led services directly to the LGBT community.

The full three-year Focused Grant funding will be deployed contingent on program performance being met.

To date, nearly $3,000,000 of the MacKenzie Scott gift has been invested in community grant opportunities, providing help and hope to more than 127,000 individuals of all ages and backgrounds. Additional Focused Grants centered on workforce development programs and initiatives are currently under review, with an anticipated announcement taking place in the spring timeframe.

“United Way of Berks County is grateful to have the resources to make these grants. It is an opportunity to accelerate help and hope for those most impacted by the pandemic. The grants will expand services and improve access to meet some our community’s most pressing needs,” added Scott Rehr, Chair of United Way’s Board of Directors.