This article was updated in May 2021
Considering collaborations and the next frontier in social services
During a career that spanned more than 33 years at Greater Twin Cities United Way, which serves St. Paul and Minneapolis and the surrounding areas, Caty Jirik repeatedly and exponentially expanded services and developed funding for complex multi-agency programs. MissionBox writer Anna Bliss talked with Caty, who is now retired, about nonprofit collaboration and the next frontier in social services.
United Way of the Greater Twin Cities stewards about $60 million each year into the community. How did you collaborate with the agencies you supported to achieve their goals and United Way's goals?
We used a very competitive, open process in certain focus areas. Then, we funded programs at agencies over a course of three years and held them accountable for outcomes. We did a lot of collaboration and partnership with our funded agencies in order to get those results. For a vast majority of these agencies, we needed to work closely with them on their services. The 2-1-1 service access system is a different story. It's not just our funded agencies, it was the entire nonprofit community.
You were instrumental in forming groundbreaking collaborations between corporate and private funders and United Way to address social problems in the Greater Twin Cities. Could you tell us about that?
A lot of collaboration was about finding the right niche for United Way and a foundation. How can United Way support this foundation while creating a niche that isn't duplicative? Another direction we took was collaborating with corporations. For instance, discount retailer Target was interested in creating a program for kids and fitness and they wanted to work with United Way in the Twin Cities and around the United States. We had something similar going on with manufacturer General Mills about food insecurity — how to distribute more food and better food. We worked together with neighborhood grocery stores to get healthy food into impoverished neighborhoods.
What do you see as the next frontier in social services?
I'm excited about the next generation of healthcare partnering with nonprofits and social service providers. With the Affordable Care Act, healthcare providers are under more scrutiny and being held accountable for actual patient outcomes. There's been a lot of research showing that patient outcomes are very connected to social determinants such as food insecurity, lack of housing, lack of general healthcare, lack of jobs, poor schools, and so on. One of the 2-1-1 initiatives was a collaboration with Hennepin County Medical Center and Allina Health to figure out how they could provide patients with a kind of a prescription that includes food, counseling and other social determinants, using 2-1-1's information and specialists to direct those referrals.
So, the movement is about providing even low-income patients with holistic care?
Right. Let's say you have diabetes. In addition to a prescription for insulin, you'll also receive referral sources for specific kinds of foods.
What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing social services right now?
One of the biggest challenges for the United States is how to create an infrastructure that's supportive of new immigrants. As we see immigration increasing, we need to build communities that welcome and can accommodate new immigrants. A related challenge is that we're not going to have enough trained workers for the jobs that are actually available without significant workforce training. That's why we worked with the state of Minnesota and other nonprofit providers on a program called Career Academy, a curriculum in schools that prepares students with an associate's degree that can grow directly into skilled employment. Rather than just a high school diploma, the student also gets a degree or certification in a field or career that provides a living wage, such as an electrician.
What are your hopes for the next generation?
I hope that the next generation can totally embrace diversity and bring about more equity in the world —and that millennials, especially, will embrace giving back.
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During a career that spanned more than 33 years at Greater Twin Cities United Way, Caty Jirik repeatedly and exponentially expanded services and developed funding for complex multi-agency programs. Caty is recently retired as the director of United Way 2-1-1, which provides free and confidential health and human services information 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Caty grew 2-1-1 from a local information and referral system to a statewide service access system, which is now part of a national system making more than 14 million referrals a year. In Minnesota, more than 500,000 referrals a year are made with access to 40,000 health and human service resources across the state. Caty is also an active member of the MissionBox Advisory Board.