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The Post and Courier, December 12th, 2015

Dec. 12, 2015, midnight · 0 comments

Trident United Way’s CharityTracker system comes to rescue in October flooding

By Ira Dreyfuss

Special to The Post and Courier

Charleston, South Carolina

Dec 12 2015 12:01 am

Carol Mullinax and her four children had done what they could by themselves to get through the damage from the thousand-year rains and flooding that started in October.

But when the rural Berkeley County family had to abandon their home, they received assistance from faith-based and other agencies in the tri-county area whose use of online coordination of disaster response has made them national pacesetters.

Mullinax and her family in Cross got food and a place to stay until their doublewide mobile home was dry enough to move back into and they could start cleanup and repairs.

Their needs were logged into the CharityTracker system hosted by Trident United Way. The system lets an agency operate a secure registry of people who come to it in need, keep track of the aid it gives, coordinate help with other agencies when a client’s need is beyond its capacity and spot duplication of services or if there are clients who might abuse their generosity.

“I am impressed with the way in which the Charleston community and other communities have been using that type of software,” said Dr. Katherine Rowan, an expert in crisis communication and a professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

“It looks like the software and effective use of it is allowing use of resources and anticipating needs that we simply wouldn’t see without hard work and coordination, and this impressive software,” she said.

Online coordination

How Mullinax and her family were helped marks a major change from the scatter-shot approach that still characterizes much of the nation’s volunteer-based responses to disaster.

While major organizations such as the American Red Cross have the staff and software to coordinate their work, smaller groups and individual volunteers generally do what they can with what they have as far as they can see the need.

Cases like this are where online coordination shines, said L. Ron Pringle, executive director of Tricounty Family Ministries, a large ecumenical organization that provides food, shelter and other assistance to people in need.

“An organization out in rural communities was able to post information,” he said. “Any organization that’s able to meet that need can contact them. If they need volunteers, they can ask for that, and volunteers are dispatched,” Pringle said.

Mullinax first tried to stay in her home, even though the flooding was so bad that her 16-year-old twin daughters had to wear garbage bags up to their thighs just to walk to the school bus stop. But after November’s rains added to the damage, and her leaking roof began to make the electrical wiring wet, the family had to leave home.

Mullinax visited Cross Elementary School, where her two younger children attend.

Amy Forte, a counselor with the dropout-prevention nonprofit Communities in Schools, contacted Trident United Way, which had previous data on Mullinax in CharityTracker.

Trident United Way provided funds for Tricounty Ministries as it allocated money for temporary housing, so the family got temporary places to stay, with this aid and food aid tracked in the database.

Help in a crisis

The Mullinax family was far from alone in needing help. At Cordesville First Baptist Church in Moncks Corner, Anne Turner volunteers with the church’s food pantry. Soon after the flooding started, the church faced a needs crisis. Pastor Alan Bagwell “had people stranded knocking on the door, so we had people sleeping in the church,” she said.

Because flood victims who came to the food pantry were entered into the database, they could get help well beyond what her small pantry could offer.

“Some of them needed assistance with power bills or with repairs or different things like that,” Turner said. “That’s where Tricounty Family Ministries and other organizations like that have been able to help. We have tried to help people in the local community with power bills, but financially, we can feed a lot more people with what we could pay one person’s power bill.”

Tracking cases

Using a shared program has another advantage because it discourages fraud and abuse of the system, Turner said. For instance, if a person gets groceries from one food pantry one day and shows up the next day at another, a staffer at the second pantry will see the record of the earlier visit.

“We will tell them, ‘If you went to a food pantry yesterday, today is not an emergency,’” she said.

Trident United Way has more than 300 agencies and faith-based groups using CharityTracker.

In addition to clients picked up directly from these member organizations, people in need who call Trident United Way’s 2-1-1 call center could be directed to agencies that use CharityTracker.

The 2-1-1 call center alone fielded more than 2,800 requests from the tri-county area for help in the 30 days after the storm hit, Trident United Way reported.

Trident United Way had experience using the system, which it brought to the community about eight years ago as a shared point at which agencies could work together on clients’ non-disaster needs, said Cathy Easley, director of integrated community systems for the social services agency.

When disaster struck, staffers at Trident United Way and the agencies already knew how to coordinate using the software, and were ready to go.

“When we realized how bad it was, part of what CharityTracker has is a bulletin feature, and we began sending bulletins saying please let us know what were people needing and what were the agencies needing to serve them,’’ Easley said.

Rowan warns that coastal areas can expect to use online disaster response again.

“With climate change and other factors, we have increasing threats for a variety of extreme weather events,” she said. “There is no question that we need to be coordinated and smart about how we respond.”

Here's a link to the original article.

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Merry Christmas From the Simon Solutions Team!

Dec. 10, 2015, 6 a.m. · 0 comments

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Food Banks Building the Capacity of Partnering Agencies

Dec. 8, 2015, 4:51 p.m. · 0 comments

(About the Photo: More than 20 Marines from U.S. Marine Forces Command and the II Marine Expeditionary Force help package bread at the Greater Boston Food Bank in Boston, Massachusetts, March 17, 2015. By Lance Cpl. Calvin Shamoon (https://www.dvidshub.net/image/1828174) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Jonathan Tetrault serves as Senior Manager of Community Initiatives at The Greater Boston Food Bank, where they have built a network of 600 partnering agencies for food programs and distribution. “It is great to be a hub and resource for food in our community, but at the end of the day if we don’t have strong partnerships, the food in our warehouse doesn’t do any good. We can’t sit in a corner office of the city and decide how to serve the 190 cities and towns in our service area. We have to empower agencies in our communities to do that,” shares Tretault.

A food bank’s network of partners, like The Greater Boston Food Bank, can range in capacity from a rural, church-based food pantry serving 10-20 people a week to a large urban shelter providing hundreds of meals daily. Partner agencies follow basic partnership agreements with food banks, including how they store and distribute food as well as meet reporting deadlines.

Capacity building for partners can happen in a number of ways. For example, the Capital Area Food Bank in Austin gives approximately $125,000 per fiscal year to partner agencies by way of grants for things like cold food storage. “As food banks realize their vision of providing healthy foods, like more fresh fruits and vegetables, they must equip their partners to accommodate those perishables,” says Heath Ribordy, Agency Relations Manager.

Food banks give partners support well beyond food distribution and storage, though. “We try to strengthen that network of partners by doing grant programs, best practices, growth planning and consulting with them,” says Tetrault in Boston.

Since 2011, Oasis Insight has been serving food bank agency relations and program directors by providing affordable client database, assistance recording and reporting solutions. “We are encouraging our partners to move to things like Oasis Insight, which means moving some of them from the index card and shoebox filing system,” shares Tetrault.

Expanding One Boston Agency Beyond the Basement

One agency in Boston’s metro region was doing quite a lot of food service for their community out of a church basement and was clearly outgrowing that facility. Without an accurate reporting system, the agency could not really tell a story with the numbers they had.

Tetrault shares, “We helped them get the technology needed to start using Oasis Insight. Now that they have good data they have been able to use it and form their story and pitch their need for a new facility to their funders and community. They are now in the process of purchasing their own facility and renovating that space so that they can really expand the service they are offering their clients!”

Want to learn more about how Oasis Insight and Food Banks partner together?

Download our full Case Study: More than Warehouses: Food Banks Build the Capacity of Partnering Agencies.

This study includes interviews with five different Food Bank leaders about their capacity-building work and implementation processes for improving technology, collaboration and reporting.

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South Carolina Flood Relief

Oct. 8, 2015, 9:07 a.m. · 0 comments

The good people at SC Thrive in Columbia, South Carolina have reached out to ask that we might help spread the word about resources available for people affected by the flooding disaster.

Here are some resources for those who have been directly affected:

Quick Reference Guide for Applying Online for FEMA Assistance (thanks to Cathy Easley): http://bit.ly/femaApplicationReferenceGuide

FEMA's Online Application for Assistance: http://bit.ly/femaOnlineApplication

Red Cross Shelters in South Carolina: http://bit.ly/RedCrossShelterLocationsSC

If you are in a region that has not been affected by the disaster, and you want to help, the following links offer you the opportunity:

United Way of the Midlands, covering Fairfield, Newberry, Richland, Lexington, Calhoun, and Orangeburg http://bit.ly/UnitedWayOfTheMidlandsRelief

Trident United Way, covering Charleston, Dorchester, and Berkeley http://bit.ly/TridentUnitedWayRelief

We at Simon Solutions keep South Carolina in our thoughts, and we send prayers for all who have been affected by this disaster.

Ben Stedman

CEO of Simon Solutions

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Meet Dee: Taking Action against Hunger at North Middle School

Sept. 18, 2015, 9:45 a.m. · 0 comments

September is Hunger Action month and we would like to salute one of our Oasis Insight heroes fighting hunger in her community. Meet Dee Nadjkovic, volunteer administrator at the North Middle School Food Pantry in Great Falls, Montana. Each week she helps between 10-20 students shop for food right there in the middle school before they hop on the bus to go home.

What started out as a simple way to be involved in her son’s school has turned into a passion for fighting childhood hunger. “Two years ago when my son went into middle school I was involved in the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). Each parent joining PTA was asked to volunteer for a committee. The Food Pantry was on the list and for some reason I thought this sounded like fun and more interesting than counting box tops,” she says.

Dee has found that this volunteer role is a very direct way to help her son’s peers. She shares, “You can see a child with the same shoes and phone as all the other kids and think that he or she isn’t in need, but I’m learning that children are going to school without what they need. We can do something about hunger.”

Each week shopping is done at the local Food Bank and school food pantry volunteers sort and stock the shelves. Once a week they help students “shop” for nutritious foods so they can be more focused on their school work and less distracted by a growling stomach.

On special occasions, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, even more students visit the pantry and bigger boxes of food are distributed. “We don’t necessarily do these special boxes for the holiday, per se. We do it because of the extended time out of school for these kids,” says Dee. The boxes often include items for a holiday meal, but are also stuffed with additional lunch, breakfast and snack foods to help see the students through the breaks from school.

But what about summer break? That was a question Dee and fellow volunteers wondered about. Concerned for the well-being of the students they had been serving, Dee and friends set up a summer school-based food pantry as well. “Yes! We created a rather impromptu summer food pantry. We operated it with two to three volunteers at one of the middle schools weekly.”

Not only does Dee help with distribution year-round, she also keeps the records for the program, reporting back to the food bank and the program’s financial supporters, The Great Falls Public School Foundation and the North Middle School PTA. She makes sure they know the number of students served and the amount of food received.

Dee has been one of the first school-based food pantry volunteers to upgrade her record-keeping by using Oasis Insight’s technology solution for case management and reporting. “The paperwork was daunting to me and it used to take over an hour a week and two to three hours a month to create reports with my miscellaneous papers and excel spreadsheets. Using Oasis Insight has taken the chore feeling out of it and saved me a lot of time.”

While the school food pantry isn’t designed to be a primary food source for the children or families served, it is able to help families get by, or make it through to the end of the month. Nationwide, Feeding America’s School Pantry program serves more than 21 million meals to nearly 110,000 children. Dee shares, “This work is something that has become incredibly important to me in my life. I will always make sure that I am doing what I can to help children with food.”

Thank you, Dee, for taking action against hunger in your community! To learn more about Hunger Action Month and School Food Pantries visit www.feedingamerica.org. To learn more about bringing Oasis Insight to your community food pantry or local food bank, visit www.oasisinsight.net.

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WGNS Radio, September 17th, 2015

Sept. 17, 2015, noon · 0 comments

CharityTracker Information Sessions in Full Swing

September 17, 2015

Murfreesboro and Rutherford County, TN


The United Way of Rutherford and Cannon Counties is hosting free information sessions for CharityTracker, a shared case management and communications tool for local agencies in Rutherford and Cannon counties. The United Way has already hosted five information sessions for leaders in the nonprofit, faith-based, foundation, civic, academia, and government sectors to learn more about the free software.

CharityTracker can be used to gather and report statistical data for resource development, strategic planning, measuring outcomes, reducing duplication and disaster relief, as well as securely communicate needs directly to the organizations that have the resources to provide services. CharityTracker streamlines client intake and provides accurate records to assist agencies in serving clients more efficiently and effectively.

Josh Markham, Missions Director of First United Methodist Church, said, "Charity Tracker is a concept I and others that assist in the community have been wanting for years. What has been missing is a cohesive network to launch this program. United Way is providing that. Now agencies will be able to communicate effectively and work together. As more agencies use this tool, residents in our area will receive lasting help. Together we can accomplish so much more. United indeed."

Here's a link to the original article.

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The Sanford Herald, Sept. 16th, 2015

Sept. 16, 2015, 4:04 p.m. · 0 comments

Beginning at home:

Fall means start of United Way campaign

Sept. 15, 2015

Sanford, North Carolina

By Jan Hayes, Executive director, United Way of Lee County

Fall is here once again. Despite some sweltering temperatures, making it feel like summer may never end, all of the other telltale signs have arrived. Children finally have settled into their new classrooms. Football season has kicked off at area universities. And the annual United Way campaign has begun.

Granted, the annual United Way fundraising campaign doesn’t attract as much attention as “back-to-school” sales and tailgating. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not important. In fact, money raised by United Way of Lee County over the next few months will be used by about 18 Lee County nonprofits to help our friends and neighbors when they need it most.

That includes helping women escape domestic violence, providing essential medical care for low-income neighbors who can’t afford health insurance, allowing people with disabilities to experience some freedom and independence, caring for homeless families breaking away from poverty, helping youth develop strong study habits and important leadership skills — the list goes on.

Even better, money raised during the fall campaign doesn’t just help United Way partner agencies. It strengthens nonprofits across our entire community. Corporate contributions made during the annual campaign pay for community-wide projects like VolunteerLee.com and Charity Tracker.

VolunteerLee.com is a local website connecting volunteers with schools, churches and other nonprofits needing their help. Any organization can get involved by registering on the website and posting their needs. It’s quick and easy, and hundreds of people already have responded.

CharityTracker is a secure, online service allowing local groups to coordinate what they provide to people requesting help. It has been a godsend for local nonprofits. Now that local agencies can avoid giving the same food or financial assistance to the same people, even more families can be served. Thanks to CharityTracker, 70 more Lee County children had something to unwrap at Christmas — and that was just during the initial trial run.

But the success of any United Way campaign rests on individual donations — employees making a pledge during their workplace campaign and families making donations large and small.

And those smaller donations do matter. They matter a lot, because local nonprofits can tap into food banks, corporate matching programs and other special arrangements that stretch dollars further than you can imagine. Want some examples? About $50 dollars will purchase 275 pounds of food to feed struggling families, $36 dollars will send two books per month to an underprivileged child for the entire year and $25 will provide emergency communication between a military family and their deployed loved one.

At a time when every dollar counts, it’s important to contribute to groups that use donations wisely. When Forbes published a list of “five all-star charities” three years ago, United Way Worldwide made that select list. The magazine noted that United Way affiliates are governed by independent review boards, audits and limits on marketing tactics.

That’s exactly what happens here with United Way of Lee County. Every agency requesting financial assistance is thoroughly evaluated by community volunteers, and their recommendations are forwarded to a board with representatives from local governments, churches, companies and nonprofits. You probably know many of them; they’re listed as part of the leadership team on the United Way website.

So, as your children head out to school this week or you turn on the big game, don’t forget that there’s more happening this fall. The United Way annual campaign is happening all around, and this is your perfect opportunity to learn more about the great things happening in our community and to help struggling neighbors reach their goals.

Here's a link to the original article.

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Strengthening Collaboration and Innovation

Sept. 9, 2015, 12:41 p.m. · 0 comments

Simon Solutions Inc. is expanding our commitment to collaboration and innovation and would like to introduce you to our newest staff member, Krista Petty. Krista is serving in a newly developed role of Community Connector and Editor. She will be connecting with many of our networks and writing case studies and profiles. You might be hearing from her soon as she researches the great work Charity Tracker and Oasis Insight networks are doing in their communities.

Through these studies and profiles, we hope to glean principles and best practices that our various networks and community collaborations have in common. We also want to learn of the unique ways some of you are solving problems and collectively having impact. Our goal is to share what we learn as to strengthen the capacity of us all. We believe what we learn will also aid in the development and implementation of forming new collaborations for community benefit and transformation.

Krista is no stranger to our team. We have been collaborating with her on various special projects for several years. If your collaborative network is doing something groundbreaking, feel free to reach out and share your story. Contact Krista directly at krista@simonsolutions.com

"Collaboration is the backbone for innovation success."

-Sarah Miller Caldicott, great grandneice of Thomas Edison

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Celebrating 9 years!!!

May 29, 2015, 1:32 p.m. · 0 comments

The month of May marks the 9th year of business for Simon Solutions, Inc.

It’s hard to believe that our solutions, CharityTracker and Oasis Insight, are now helping people in 871 cities.

Our staff continues to grow as does our passion for the work that we do.

We would like to thank the many agencies and administrators who have guided our company in building better solutions.

We have big things in store for the future and we trust that you will be with us for the next 9 years. From the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU!!!!!!

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Congratulations to Jeffrey Allen!

May 18, 2015, 11:13 a.m. · 0 comments

Simon Solutions is proud to congratulate our intern, Jeffrey Allen, on his recent graduation from the University of North Alabama where he majored in computer science and minored in mathematics.

Originally from Orlando, FL, Jeffrey is pictured above with his wonderful mother, Hannah.

Jeffrey has been a part-time member of the our team for a year and a half and will now be joining us full-time.

He says that he appreciates the opportunity to work with people who care to make a difference in communities, and we certainly appreciate Jeffrey and his hard work.

Jeffrey is a bright young man with an even brighter future. We are lucky to have him!

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