As I write this letter, I am at home, safe and healthy, following the physical distancing guidance of our local public health authorities as we all combat the spread of COVID-19. I hope you are safe and healthy, too.
Although the activities we outline in our Year in Review for 2019-2020 were only minimally touched by the pandemic, I cannot help but reflect on the current crisis as I look back on the past year.
Right now, United Way East Ontario is in the thick of responding to this crisis, with a mission to help the most vulnerable cope with these new trying circumstances. We’re doing so in the best way we know how: with our government, agency, corporate and community partners alongside us, as we tackle the very toughest of challenges together.
We have been here for our communities through crises before. Through those experiences, we’ve honed our ability to respond quickly, collaboratively and creatively. In the same way we worked together to recover after the 2018 tornadoes, support Syrian refugees, and rebuild after the 2019 floods, we are again working diligently to address the greatest needs in our communities. Our goal is always to make sure no one is left behind.
At United Way, we build strong, healthy, safe communities 365 days a year.
While crises inspire and demand immediate action, we also address local issues that often go unnoticed and forgotten—things like graduation disparities for kids living in at-risk neighbourhoods, youth homelessness, employment barriers for newcomers and people with disabilities, isolated seniors, and much more.
These challenges affect us all, even though they reveal themselves differently in urban and rural communities.
I’m so proud that in 2019, we became United Way East Ontario—officially bringing together the United Ways of Prescott-Russell, Ottawa, Lanark County and Renfrew County. We know the issues we face do not start and stop at geographic borders, so this was a
natural transition to formalize the way we had been collaborating for many years.
We are stronger when we stand together and speak up with one voice. While most of you might traditionally know United Way as a fundraiser, this is only one of the tools we use to move the needle and improve outcomes for the people who feel invisible.
Now, we have the force and expertise of our entire region behind us to create opportunities for the people who need us most.
In this report, you’ll read about the other ways we make our communities measurably better: how our research and collaboration efforts contributed to the creation of the Ottawa Neighbourhood Equity Index, helping us identify which communities need our support to access life’s essentials. You’ll see how our leadership in response to the spring floods across Eastern Ontario resulted in region-wide partnerships that we’ve drawn upon again and again. You’ll see how our United for All coalition is championing a sector-wide advocacy approach to address hate, violence and extremism in our communities.
You’ll also see in this report that in 2019-2020, we faced hurdles—as an organization, and as a community. The charitable sector is changing rapidly, and one of our biggest challenges remains rallying the community to support chronic issues with as much generosity and empathy as they exhibit during times of crisis.
Right now, the public and all levels of government are prioritizing challenges that the most vulnerable have been facing for years, that are now aggravated because of COVID-19. We hope to keep these issues on the radar in the coming months and years, as we anticipate the recovery period of this crisis.
As we look ahead, we know that our current operating year will be extremely challenging: our social fabric is being stretched and tested in ways we have never seen. We are facing adversity, but the COVID-19 pandemic is also presenting us with the opportunity to explore new forms of innovation, experiment with delivering services in new ways, consider the role of United Way in supporting the charitable sector, and much more.
It’s a common phrase of nonprofits that “we need you now, more than ever.” But as the effects of this global pandemic settle on us and test our physical, mental and financial health, this statement has never been more true.
People rely on the vital services of charities and frontline agencies even more during times of crisis. At United Way, we will always roll up our sleeves to support the most vulnerable, unafraid of the demanding challenges in front of us. We are in the midst of this work yet again.
Throughout this work, it is our promise to you that we stay transparent and accountable, with a 100% local focus—we hope you feel that after reading this report.
Thank you for being a part of this past year with us. We hope you continue to have trust in our ability to make a positive difference in the lives of the people who really need us. We certainly have trying times ahead, and we are grateful for you forging along with us.
President and CEO,
United Way East Ontario