United Way cutting funding for senior centers, K-6 after school programs

If life for seniors and struggling youth isn’t hard enough already, things may be about to get even tougher.

United Way of King County, a nonprofit that collects and distributes donations to a variety of local charities, is changing its focus away from struggling youth in grades K-6 and from senior support organizations.

The group said the change will free up funds for homeless care and other program that focus on teenagers and adults, and United Way’s funding priority will shift toward reducing the number of the unsheltered homeless by 50 percent, increasing graduation rates, and supporting financial stability programs, specifically to help bring 500,000 people above the poverty line.

“We are moving away from a wide and shallow range of services to focus our efforts to tightening our community,” Sabrina Register, Assistant Director of Public Relations, said in a Nov. 8 interview. “We’ve moved away from general senior services.”

Local nonprofit youth programs, including Communities In Schools of Federal Way and the Boys &Girls Club of Federal Way, will be directly affected. Local senior services, including the Federal Way Senior Center and Comfort Keepers, will be also be impacted.

Tracy Oster, Executive Director of Communities In Schools, explained how the decision will specifically impact Communities In Schools.

“They fund us. We have a grant through them to fund our outreach coordinators,” she said. “We are a part of their strategic plan with the dropout prevention piece. They are focusing on middle and high school kids, so we are very much aligned with what their current funding priorities are.

“It’s a two-year cycle, so we get something like $50,000 a year from them to fund a coordinator.”

The cuts United Way are making didn’t come as a surprise – they’ve been in the works for some time. Oster said United Way of King County held a series of meetings in 2015 and invited many of the organizations that would be affected by the impending changes.

“They talked about how it was going to change,” Oster said. “It’s really their board that has this vision for where their funding is going to be focused. They did tell us that K-5 wasn’t going to be funded for stuff.”

Comfort Keepers in Federal Way provides in-home care for seniors in South King County. Kim Sanchez, owner of Comfort Keepers, said the cuts won’t directly affect Comfort Keepers, but they’ve already started to impact their senior clients through other services such as Meals on Wheels.

“I know people in south King County and Federal Way being affected by these cuts,” Sanchez said. “They’re having to get on waiting lists for Meals on Wheels because United Way was a big supporter of that program. Our residents rely on a program like that.”

Along with Meals on Wheels, programs like the Hyde Shuttle – a transportation program in King County and Federal Way that takes seniors to doctor appointments, grocery stores, and on other errands – is funded through the United Way and has seen major cuts.

Reaction to the funding cuts differ from organization to organization.

Oster said the funding cuts are understandable, noting that she sees the change from a business perspective because she’s tasked with running the business side of Communities In Schools.

Still, both Oster and Sanchez said it’s a tough pill to swallow when struggling students and seniors routinely need assistant from the very programs losing funding.

For Oster, it means potentially not having funds to staff her school outreach coordinator positions. For Sanchez, the funding cuts present potential nutrition issues for Comfort Keepers clients who can’t prepare their own meals.

“Prevention is such a big piece of what we do,” Oster said. “And you can’t start if a student is in a position where they’re struggling – it’s hard to start when they’re in middle school. I believe the prevention needs to start early, K-5.”

“Meals are big, big nutritious factors for seniors,” Sanchez added. “It’s hard for them to prepare them on their own.”

On the other side, organizations like the Federal Way’s Multi-Service Center, which works to help the city’s homeless population and to help get clients out of poverty, could benefit from the change in funding focus. But for right now, Multi-Service Center CEO Robin Corak said her organization has not yet seen an impact from United Way’s decision.

“We may get money, we may lose money – I’m really not sure to this point,” she said. “There will be a meeting later this month I’ll be attending, and there should be a little bit more information there. At this point, I really don’t know a whole lot.”

Oster said it’s not about taking sides and declaring a winner or loser in United Way’s decision. Rather, no one, in situations like this, is a winner.

“Any time you take away supportive services for kids and families I think there’s impact,” Oster said. “Even if it’s going somewhere else to help another service. It’s hard to find winners when a loss of funds happen.”