The Power of Community Partnerships: A Q&A with Franklyn Baker, President & CEO of United Way of Central Maryland
Community partnerships have been a longstanding part of WPM’s commitment to giving back. The upending nature of the pandemic is creating greater need for many families and communities. We recently spoke with Franklyn Baker, President & CEO of United Way of Central Maryland (UWCM), about how organizations are responding and his perspective on the future.
WPM: How would you describe the mission of United Way of Central Maryland and the organization’s focus before COVID-19?
Baker: The mission of United Way is to improve lives. We do that in two ways – by empowering leaders and by mobilizing individuals to have a powerful impact in our communities. When I say “leaders,” I’m not simply talking about those in government or in the board room; I’m talking about individuals at any level who are stepping up as advocates, whether in an organization or as a community member. UWCM has always been about providing help whenever and wherever it is needed. Our vision is happy, thriving communities where all people live their best lives – on their own terms.
WPM: How has COVID-19 changed things for UWCM and your work with families and communities?
Baker: Like many other organizations, we have really been forced to reimagine how we work, from service delivery, to grantmaking with nonprofits, to how we collaborate and partner with donors, to how we engage and connect with our affinity groups such as Leaders United, Women United, Tocqueville Society and Emerging Leaders United. We’ve had to be creative to maintain social distancing, while still providing vital services to those in need. Things like contactless food delivery or shifting to phone and video meetings for our case workers helping families.
Our 211 Helpline is one of the greatest resources for those in our community. The helpline averages 300 to 400 calls daily. But since the pandemic, we’ve seen that number increase five-fold with one day logging over 2,000 calls!
We quickly pivoted and were able to mobilize, set up the technology, and train more than 85 volunteers to effectively manage the increased demand for 211. That’s where our foothold in the region and our commitment to being at the intersection of “what’s needed” and “what we do best” allows us to be flexible to adapt and address evolving needs in the community.
WPM: From your vantage point, what are the greatest needs you’re seeing in the community?
Baker: The greatest needs we’ve seen since the pandemic started are food assistance, nonprofit infrastructure, digital equity for students, mental health and employment assistance.
We have a three-phased approach: Respond, Recover and Rebuild. Although the needs in the community may overlap phases, this approach ensures we mobilize quickly to address immediate challenges, while remaining focused on the need for long-term stability and prosperity in our communities.
Food assistance is a huge need and will continue to be as we move through the Recover and Rebuild phases. Our immediate response was a collaborative effort, quickly granting funding directly to over 10 nonprofits in the food pantry space to ensure they were able to continue their operations to distribute food to those in need. Without this funding they might have had to shut down, leaving many without access to food. As we help people to Recover, many difficulties related to job loss, housing needs or instability, stress of financial burdens, and more will continue to affect individuals in our communities. With the new school year, digital equity remains an issue. UWCM is supporting what schools are doing to help make devices and internet connectivity more widely available. We’ve also set up a separate fund in 211 to assist community members with mental health, not only connecting individuals to resources, but also providing financial assistance for mental health services, when appropriate.
WPM: What resources are available to communities and residents affected by the pandemic?
Baker: The impact has been ubiquitous, affecting workers at multiple levels across many industries – from restaurants, hospitality and entertainment to healthcare, education, transportation, and nonprofits. It’s important for members of our community to understand that the 211 Maryland Helpline is for anyone facing challenges during this time. There are more than 6,500 health and human services resources available to those who call, chat or text into our helpline. It’s open 24/7 and offers confidential support in 150 languages. Several of the information and referral specialists are Master’s-prepared, and all are highly skilled and passionate about helping those who are struggling or in need of support.
For help, dial 2-1-1 by phone, go to www.211md.org for email or chat, or text your zip code to 898-211.
WPM: How do you see COVID-19 changing things for multifamily real estate, commercial real estate, and those organizations who provide services to individuals living and working in these types of properties?
Baker: Housing is a big issue that will continue to grow. Not only has the pandemic had an effect on residents struggling to meet their financial obligations, but also on multifamily housing landlords. Both will require support to successfully navigate the challenging environment. Many landlords, residential and commercial, want to do the right thing, but most can’t float three, six, or nine months of rent. We want to be part of the solution involving creation of credits or incentives for landlords while dealing with the eviction and debt collection moratoria.
UWCM has long-standing partnerships with the Maryland Multi-Housing Association (MMHA) and landlords. We help connect residents to financial counselors. We have launched a rent forgiveness program where tenant, landlord and UWCM share the burden of past due rents to avoid the eviction of the tenant. And we’ve also formed a fund to help with rental payments through 211.
WPM: What positive changes do you anticipate coming out of the pandemic?
Baker: The pandemic has created incredible need. And throughout this crisis, we’ve seen many people and organizations step up to help – whether that’s financially, through volunteering, or through advocacy. My hope is that these individuals and organizations will continue to do so, post-pandemic.
I think, too, the collaborations between organizations during this difficult time has strengthened the learning within our community. The information we’ve gleaned from one another and the knowledge sharing has been invaluable. We’ve seen how powerful community partnerships can be. I hope that coming out of the pandemic, we’re able to grow these collaborative efforts for systemic investments that go beyond the coronavirus, leveraging what we can accomplish together.
WPM: How can individuals and organizations get involved or help during this time?
Baker: There are multiple ways to help through UWCM – whether that’s donations of dollars, volunteering or participating in advocacy efforts. Our website connects individuals to resources and opportunities. Simply visit www.uwcm.org and select “Need Help?” or “Want to Help?” Whether you need help or are in a position to provide help, you are part of our community. Together, we will get through this.