During her first summer as a Field School Fellow, Zoe Blicksilver ’14 is in the midst of 22 mid-year site visits on behalf of the Chenango United Way in Norwich. Certified through the United Way of America since 1974, the Chenango United Way “builds partnerships and maximizes resources to improve the quality of life for local residents.” The Chenango United Way keeps all money raised and donated local by funding Central New York organizations that incorporate the United Way’s national focus areas of income, education, and healthcare into their programs. In Zoe’s opinion, the mid-year site visits are an essential component of the United Way’s work because they “contribute to the overall effectiveness of the organization through increasing accountability of community partners.”
On a typical day, Zoe can be found making phone calls and sending emails to community partners and board members to coordinate visits. Even though two board members accompany her on every site visit, she feels she brings “a different set of eyes” to the meetings as a Colgate student who became aware of these organizations only recently. Zoe also believes that her attendance at every meeting ensures consistency, especially since she is responsible for preparing all board members for each visit by reading past reports about funded organizations. During any given meeting with a community partner, Zoe and board members take about an hour to go over a rubric that the organization has filled out “with components ranging from the impact of United Way funding to showing strong evidence of collaborations through partnerships with other community organizations.” Once the evaluations are complete, the agency is aware of changes to make before the end of the year if necessary. These evaluations are also reviewed if the organization applies for funding the following year.
Halfway through her fellowship, Zoe has visited 14 organizations. From these visits, she has learned about the strengths and challenges of the nonprofit sector in Chenango County and, in general. Zoe says, “The disparity in these various organizations is clear and while issues such as securing funding transcend them, each faces very unique challenges.” She has also witnessed how much the success of a program is correlated to the dedication of its director. Zoe’s awareness of issues such as illiteracy and domestic abuse in Chenango County has increased, as well as the United Way’s role in addressing them. She says, “The difference that United Way funding makes in detecting where its money is best used, along with the central issues to the community, has also become extremely clear.”
Having spent the past semester studying and completing an internship in Geneva, Switzerland, Zoe was very excited “to have the counter experience of working in a local community organization like Chenango United Way.” Entering her senior year at Colgate, Zoe admits she has “had very limited interaction with members of the local community outside of Hamilton.” One of her goals participating as a Field School Fellow was to “get a glimpse into how such a non-profit runs and see the results of its work much more directly.” Zoe also desired to “really get a sense of the Upstate community” before her final year at Colgate. With the ground she has covered through her in-depth site visits in Chenango County already, it is evident Zoe is doing that and more!