Narrow focus, United Way told

The United Way of Central Carolinas should expand its support for programs that improve education, housing and health care in its five-county service area, a yearlong community needs assessment recommends.

The United Way should conduct or fund public awareness campaigns to make people more knowledgeable about affordable housing and the value of preventive health care, as well as vocational and technical training opportunities, the study by UNCCharlotte's Urban Institute advises.

United Way officials released findings of the report before about 70 Lake Norman area service providers at Cornelius Town Hall last week. A similar session is scheduled for 7:45 to 9 a.m. Wednesday at Carolinas Medical Center-Northeast, 920 Church St. N., Concord.

The United Way funds agencies and services in Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, Anson, Union and southern Iredell counties.

The theme of prevention rings throughout the report:

Expand high school dropout prevention programs.

Prevent unemployment by increasing vocational and technical training for middle and high school students.

Prevent failure in school by increasing affordable, quality early child-care programs.

Homelessness can be prevented by increasing quality affordable housing, especially rental units, the study says.

Among other actions, the report recommends funding more free dental clinics to prevent poor dental health; improving care for teen moms and their newborns by expanding pre- and post-natal care programs; and ending obesity by supporting health department-sponsored healthy eating and exercise initiatives.

The United Way should also update its funding approach, the study says, by focusing on fewer, select causes and having agencies respond to the United Way's causes through requests for proposals. That approach would make the agency less a conduit for money than what the report calls a "catalyst for change."

.Changes will be phased in over four years, Jane McIntyre, the United Way's executive director, said at a meeting in May to corporate leaders who represent top accounts for the organization's annual campaign. United Way's board will decide in coming months how to implement the new approach, and the agency's 90-plus member charities will be consulted.

"The overall goal is how to be most efficient with donors' dollars and have the greatest outcome and impact on the community," said Jerri Haigler, the United Way's president of education, engagement and communication.

The full community needs assessment report can be viewed at and Staff writer Mark Price contributed.