United Way of Genesee County’s chief sees a silver lining in the havoc wrought by Flint’s water woes: The crisis has brought the community closer together.
“We have developed much closer relationships with churches, neighborhood groups, and marginalized communities such as the deaf community and Hispanic community,” said Jamie Gaskin, CEO of United Way of Genesee County. “We have been involved in nearly all issues that have emerged from the crisis.”
Greater cooperation among Flint’s network of nonprofits and charities has yielded increased support for the families that depend on immediate aid and long-term social services.
United Way of Genesee County is among the 120- plus agencies and individuals that make up the Flint Water Recovery Group. The partnership was the catalyst for Flint Cares, an initiative that provides Flint residents with accurate, up-to-date information about the crisis and the resources available.
According to flintcares.com, United Way of Genesee County’s Flint Water Fund had raised $4,684,331 as of November 1, 2018, the most recent date for which numbers were available. And as of that date, United Way had distributed $4,229,254 to more than 50 organizations assisting in recovery efforts on many fronts.
We recently caught up with Gaskin, who’s been at the helm of Genesee County’s United Way branch for nearly seven years, to discuss the agency’s role in recovery efforts and the changes he considers vital to Flint’s future. Here’s what he had to say:
QUESTION: What role has United Way of Genesee County played in the water crisis recovery effort, both in the immediate aftermath and now?
ANSWER: The United Way has served as a lead organization in much of the immediate recovery work throughout the crisis. This work has focused on grant making around:
- Basic needs: filters, water, health service access.
- Communications support: flintcares. com, communications FACT leadership, Emergency Operations Community Lead (EOC).
- Volunteer coordination (during initial response).
- Other special projects (building playgrounds).
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Flint residents now and in the future?
A: There are several major challenges:
- Infrastructure replacement.
- General support around access to safe water – filters, bottled water, water testing, interior plumbing replacement.
- Affordable water – Flint’s rates are among the highest in the United States. Continued issue of residents moving out of the city of Flint.
- Public school quality and public safety.
Q: What is the United Way doing to address those challenges?
A: Those are just a few of the issues that need to be fixed. The United Way will address them in several ways including:
- Advocacy for legislative changes that improve revenue sharing with cities to address public safety, blight, water rates.
- Grant making and fund-raising around supporting clean, safe water, including filters, bottled water, outreach and health care access for children and gap communities.
- Grant making for early education programs in Flint community schools.
- Project coordination and fiduciary management of large projects, including AmeriCorps projects that have more than 300 full-time members working in the city of Flint to address recovery, public safety, education, food and nutrition, and blight.
- Emergency relocations due to water shut offs in apartment and trailer park communities.
Q: Is there a sense of hope among the community that Flint will be able to thrive once again after a series of blows, with the most recent being the water crisis?
A: I think we are still very much in a time of trying to come to terms with what has happened. Following all disasters, there is a desire for things to be “made whole.” What we know from other disasters is that nothing is ever “made whole,” rather we find a new normal that is different. There is a great need for healing … and I think this is very much in a gray area as the various lawsuits and criminal cases are still in the courts. The next two or three years will be critical in reestablishing trust and also changing legislation at the state level to help create a system of fair water rates, improved municipal water system oversite and increased basic revenue sharing. I think these issues will have a significant impact on Flint being able to turn a corner.
Q: How can people assist United Way in the water crisis recovery efforts?
A: Donations. We still take ZERO administrative fees, and 100% goes to address basic needs through our Water Fund, www.unitedwaygenesee.org.