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United Way of Greater Chattanooga and the TN Cares Program

by | Capacity Building, Impact, Impact Stories, News, Stability, Venture Forward

Exactly one year ago, the pandemic made its way to Greater Chattanooga.

When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Greater Chattanooga in March of 2020, countless members of our community were hit hard by its effects. Many experienced lost jobs, diminished wages and other setbacks, both during the shelter-at-home order and as businesses struggled to get back on their feet. Some households faced decisions between paying rent or paying utilities on time. Our community jumped into action, with individuals and organizations raising money for struggling households and local nonprofits responding to on-the-ground needs. But as the crisis continued, nonprofits found themselves stretched thin and depleted of resources. 

Then over the summer, Governor Bill Lee announced the Tennessee Community Cares Program (TN Cares). As part of the United States Financial Stimulus Accountability Group designated to provide up to $150 million in aid, the TN Cares program provided funding to Tennessee nonprofits for COVID-19 response related expenses. Our region was designated over $24,000,000 in aid, and nonprofits were encouraged to apply for grants to cover pandemic-driven needs related to personnel expenses, COVID-19 contact tracing, distance learning, economic support, food programing, housing support, telework capabilities, medical expenses, nursing homes, payroll expenses, personal protective equipment, public health and more. 

United Way of Greater Chattanooga was asked to step up for our community.

Our organization was asked to act as the grant administrator in charge of overseeing the delegation of TN Cares funding for our region. This role represents what we as an organization do best – connect change-makers with the resources they need to address our community’s most pressing issues. United Way of Greater Chattanooga agreed to the task and got to work. As an administrator, our organization was in charge of handling outreach, handling marketing and reporting of funds, receiving and approving grant applications and monitoring spending of approved programs. In order to complete these tasks to the best of our ability and ensure equity, we were able to partner with a number of generous volunteers who reviewed applications. We were also able to work with additional outside consultants who helped us optimize the application process and ensure top quality for the nonprofits involved. United Way of Greater Chattanooga was also supported by Tennessee State Senator Bo Watson (TN-11), who partnered with on-the-ground organizations to ensure the most equitable and accountable process for executing this program in the community. 

With several of our own in-house grant application opportunities for local nonprofits, like our community investment process, United Way of Greater Chattanooga was prepared with the knowledge and skills needed to train volunteers and review applications for TN Cares funding. Volunteers evaluated incoming applications based on the state’s criteria for COVID-19 related response work and services. We then recommended recipients to the Tennessee Department of Health Services. 

However, there were many local nonprofits, especially smaller, neighborhood-based organizations, who had never experienced the grant application process before. These organizations were also the ones doing some of the most on-the-ground, grassroots work. They desperately needed financial resources to continue serving. So Venture Forward – United Way of Greater Chattanooga’s arm for social innovation and nonprofit advancement – reached out to nonprofits to educate them about the TN Cares opportunity. They also hosted roundtables and information sessions to equip organizations to complete the grant application process to the best of their ability. Because of Venture Forward’s efforts, not only were smaller nonprofits able to secure funding for COVID-19 recovery – they were able to learn and prepare for future grant opportunities, increasing their capacity for impact down the road. 

Our Vice President of Finance and Operations, Suzy Anthony, was able to witness first-hand the hard work local nonprofits put in during this process. “We are so proud of the efforts of the organizations that stepped up to fight the good fight,” she said. “Many of the nonprofits that we were able to help had never gone through this type of grant application process. So, while we are happy to see them be able to utilize the funds that were approved through TN Cares, we’re also excited to see them apply for future grants now that they understand the process and believe in their ability.” 

Overall, we received 1,003 submissions for TN Cares aid totaling $24,239,734.

This number is an incredible testament to the strength of our community and the commitment of the nonprofit sector in the fight to recover from the pandemic. United Way of Greater Chattanooga recommended programs and organizations for funding until the allotted $24,000,000 was reached. A total of 85 nonprofit organizations received TN Cares aid, and every dollar was spent. The impact on nonprofits’ ability to serve was immense. One of the recipients, Partnership for Families, Children and Adults, shared how they used the funding to safely care for victims of domestic violence. 

“One of the biggest challenges we have faced during the pandemic was finding a safe, isolated area for domestic violence shelter clients who had either contracted the virus or were exposed to the virus and needed to quarantine,” said Sharon Love, Director of Philanthropy. “With the TN Cares funding, Partnership was able to be reimbursed for the cost of converting an existing staff kitchen on our first floor into two private bedrooms and bathrooms to house clients who needed a safe space to quarantine. While that space was under construction, the funding also provided temporary housing in “extended stay” hotels for those same clients.”

A connected community changes everything.

“United Way of Greater Chattanooga is honored to have been selected to oversee such an important task and to have the opportunity to live out our mission by doing exactly what we do best – connect resources to need through the relationships we have already built as an organization,” said Lesley Scearce, United Way of Greater Chattanooga’s President and CEO. 

She speaks for all of us on staff. We are proud of all the nonprofits who continue to roll up their sleeves and care for our community in the midst of crisis, and we’re thankful to have had a front-row seat to the impact they made possible. The collaboration illuminated by the TN Cares program and process is a true example of the power of a connected community, and it shows what we are able to accomplish when we LIVE UNITED.