AN UNEXPECTED MAJOR GIFT TO OUR COMMUNITY FROM MACKENZIE SCOTT
At the end of last year, United Way of Berks County received a major gift of $10 million from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. This gift is above and beyond the generous contributions made annually which support investments to programming delivered to support 150,000 Berks Countians each year. The one-time grant from MacKenzie Scott provides the opportunity to extend and accelerate funding for programs/initiatives that will address systemic issues and create sustainable change.
Based on recommendations developed by a special advisory committee of volunteers, the Board of Directors of United Way of Berks County announced three strategies will ensure Ms. Scott’s gift benefits Berks County today and in the future.
- COVID Response Grants will continue to support increased demands for services to help those most impacted by the pandemic to meet their most basic needs.
- Impact Grants will support programs/collaborative efforts to expand programming and capacity to serve the community’s most vulnerable individuals and families.
- Focused Grants will be multi-year grants addressing systemic issues and creating sustainable change.
- Helping Harvest Fresh Food Bank received a grant to complete construction of two on-site storage units that will increase refrigeration and freezer capacity and expand fresh food distribution. This $450,000 grant, combined with matching funds from an anonymous donor, allowed Helping Harvest to reach their fundraising goal for this project, as hunger needs continue to climb in our community.
- The Street Medicine Program received a grant to provide care to our community’s most vulnerable population – individuals/families experiencing homelessness. The program is supported by volunteer physicians. The $321,000 grant will expand staffing for the program to include: an advanced practice provider, a case manager, and a community liaison – focused on improving the coordination of services and preventive cared for chronic health issues. Street Medicine is a program delivered by Reading Hospital.
- The STRONG Program received a grant of $93,900 to support renovations and operation costs for a transitional housing program for homeless youth (16 to 22 years old, Berks County youth who are runaways, homeless or at risk of becoming homeless). The 18-month program will meet the immediate needs of the youth, provide long-term, safe housing, and support the development of skills for living independently. STRONG is a program of Mary’s Shelter.
- Berks Latino Workforce Development Corporation, Inc. received a grant of $100,000 to help purchase and renovate a location for Berks Tec Centro, a technical center located in South Reading to provide employment services, occupational training, adult education and literacy and other career services. The return on investment through Berks Tec Centro will be neighborhood stabilization, a trained and skilled workforce for local business and increased wages leading to financial stability for more families.
- The Berks County Mediation Prevention Project received a grant of $332,420 to expand upon a successful landlord/tenant mediation pilot program. This program provides relief to the tenants facing eviction and pays landlords the rent they are due, but also provides relief to the courts to help them with that backlog of thousands of eviction cases resulting from the pandemic. The Berks County Mediation Prevention Project is a program of MidPenn Legal Services.
- As one of the only Keystone STAR 4 childcare centers within the City of Reading, Second Street Learning Center (SSLC) strives to maintain the quality rating, based on standards of Pennsylvania Office of Child Development & Early Learning. The center is funded, in part, by United Way and provides a much-needed service for working families, who are only able to work because they receive help with childcare costs. The $146,161 grant supports SSLC’s capital improvements needed to maintain the STAR 4 level rating.
- PA 211 East serves Berks County and surrounding areas with 211, a free, confidential information and referral service connecting people to the help they need around childcare, after-school programs, housing and utility assistance, food banks, elder care, health programs and more. The $120,000 Impact Grant supports additional resources for the ongoing demand at the PA 211 East Call Center and to decrease wait times for callers in need of help.
- 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.
- LGBT Center of Greater Reading received $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.
- BCPS has received $299,788 for the first year of a three-year funding plan, totaling more than $1.2 million. The grant, which is focused on workforce development, will support Reentry Works (RW), a case-managed approach to delivering employment support services to marginalized populations of underemployed and unemployed individuals reentering the community from incarceration, and not currently eligible for other agency services. The RW program draws on the strengths and successes of the agency’s county reentry program and creates employment plans for individuals. An evidence-informed curriculum will be utilized and the program includes varied elements, including:skill/education/experience assessment, financial literacy, employment preparedness, computer labs and employer recruitment.
- The Healthy Food Store is an extension of the United Way supported VeggieRX program and the weekly urban farm stand facilitated by Penn State Health St. Joseph. In year one of the three-year grant, VeggieRX has received $81,300 tol support development of a more permanent retail location providing fresh, healthy and affordable food to city residents in the heart of downtown Reading.
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