Recently, Unite Us convened One Continuum, our virtual summit which brought together thousands of community-based organizations across the U.S. to celebrate their work and showcase their impact on communities near and far. Over 1,500 attendees joined us in sharing ideas, making connections, and inspiring solutions.
One Continuum captured the true spirit of partnership and determination that goes hand in hand with community collaboration. The two-day event featured eight different sessions and included keynote presentations, panel discussions, and a series of workshops with organizational leaders, subject-matter experts, and community outreach champions and innovators.
Here’s an overview of each panel and sampling of highlights.
Bridging the Gap: How Collective Impact Starts with Community
Our opening keynote featured Bill Bynum, the CEO of Hope, which comprises Hope Credit Union, Hope Enterprise Corporation, and Hope Policy Institute. The discussion was led by Georgina Dukes, a social justice advocate and social innovation leader who joined Unite Us as one of our first community engagement managers.
Bynum described his life story and extensive experience as a nationally recognized business person and philanthropist based in North Carolina. He talked specifically about the importance of capital in raising people up. But he also noted that money alone is not enough.
“Organizations with resources may be well-intended, but they often miss the mark because they don’t listen to the community. Organizations anchored in their communities know the issues better than anyone. Much of our work is done in partnership with community-based organizations whose constituents are the people they serve because they’re the same people who need the services we provide.”
The importance of listening to people in the community became one of the dominant themes throughout the day. As Bynum put it, “We’re all products of the people and communities who shape us along the way.”
Power in Partnership: Making Cross-Sector Collaborations Work for Your Community
Our first panel was on cross-sector collaborations—an acknowledgment that siloed approaches to community health don’t work, and collaboration is critical for addressing complex issues like homelessness, food insecurity, and maternal health, among many others.
The panel was led by Irene Wong, Senior Director of Channel Partnerships for Unite Us. It featured Wendi Copeland, Chief Partnership Officer of Goodwill Industries International; Bill Vatterott, Director of Marketing & Programs for RX Outreach; and Karen Chustz, Senior Program Manager for the National Healthy Start Association.
Wendi Copeland put it directly: “It’s not enough to be a service provider. We need to be a system changer.” For Goodwill, that happens by bringing the resources and expertise of national partners to bear on challenges and needs at the local level. “Everyone deserves the opportunity to thrive. But that takes all of us coming together—for-profits, nonprofits, and private and public organizations.”
Karen Chustz of Healthy Start values collaboration for the opportunities to bring non-traditional partners to bear on community challenges. “We view collaboration as an excellent way to leverage scarce resources, develop new relationships, and allow each organization to focus on their mission. We can’t effect change in our communities without coming together.”
Bill Vatterott echoed this sentiment, highlighting that exploratory collaborations are the key to engaging larger, for-profit organizations: “We have to put people over profit. If we can get them to take a chance and pilot a program and share that data, we can help show the impact.”
The Future of Funding: Building Stronger Communities Through Strategic Investments
Research and lived experience tells us that people are healthier when they have safe housing, access to healthy food, transportation, and so on. However, communities too often lack the funding and infrastructure to address these social determinants of health.
Our panel on the future of funding focused on the Health Opportunities Pilots in North Carolina, one of the nation’s first comprehensive programs to equip payers, providers, and community-based organizations with the tools, infrastructure, and financing necessary to integrate essential non-medical services into the delivery of care. It highlighted many of the positive changes that have come from the pilot itself and provided listeners insights into how they could leverage similar strategic investments for their own communities.
Teresa Wiley, Director of Community Network Development at Community Care of North Carolina, reflected on the ways in which the pilot had improved coordination of care between providers: “Before the implementation of this pilot, we had a care management infrastructure, but we would scramble to get resources to those members. This pilot has allowed us to create true partnership and collaboration from all walks of life and have that face-to-face interaction.”
She went on to explain the role platforms like Unite Us play in improving accuracy of outcomes. “Before, there were silos where resources might not have always been there. The platform has allowed us to close the loop to be able to see the outcome, and understand if we’re getting the outcome that we’re looking for.”
As systems continue changing to finally meet people where they are and elevate social care to the same priority level as healthcare, it’s no doubt that initiatives like the Healthy Opportunities Pilots will lay the groundwork for future efforts. As Joshua Chitalo, CEO of Mount Carmel HELPS, Inc., put it: “When you’re about to be evicted, when your kids are hungry and you don’t have food—that is a lot of stress, and it reduces the quality of health that individuals have. To be able to know, ‘I’ll be able to receive these services to help feed my kids’—that’s a lot of health benefits that we see right away.”
No Wrong Door: Meeting Communities Where They Are
More than ever, people in need are turning to their communities. Often, the first step toward getting support and care is not the local hospital or clinic, but the local school, library, church, and even barbershop.
In communities across the country, local organizations are stepping up as navigators to help connect people in need with information, resources, and social services.
Our panel, led by Megan Carlson, the National Director of Network Success at Unite Us, featured Kristen Herr, the Library Director at Lawton Public Library in Lawton, Oklahoma, and Lynn Smith, Executive Assistant at Higher Dimension Church in Houston, Texas.
Lynn Smith said people have always walked into the church with requests for services the church can’t provide. “But now we have the ability to reach out through the Unite Us Platform to help connect them to those services.”
Working through the platform not only saves time making calls for referrals and waiting for replies, but it also keeps track of the people seeking help. Collecting that data enables community organizations to better serve those in need and helps Higher Dimension Church tell a bigger story and bring more resources and services together.
Kristen Herr described the array of health and social services her library has come to offer—from blood pressure cuffs and exercise technology to telehealth booths and housing information. As a result, the library is becoming a hub for social services information that enables people in the community to get the support and care they need. “I just get excited whenever we make connections. We’re learning to work smarter, not harder.”
Advocating for Community: Leading Local and State Transformation
As needs continue to grow and resources shrink, how can community-based organizations ensure they’re well-resourced and supported in their important work of delivering innovative, sustainable solutions to address service gaps, health inequities, and other social challenges?
Moira Kenney, Unite Us’ West Coast Regional Network Director, facilitated a powerful discussion with Bailey Wright, State Advocacy and Public Policy Director of Oklahoma Food Banks; Jenna Hauss, President and CEO of ONEgeneration Senior Enrichment Center; and Michelle Merritt, President and CEO of New Futures.
Bailey Wright described how her organization—Oklahoma’s largest network of emergency food assistance providers—works directly with federal, state, and local officials to advocate for policy changes that address hunger. “For us, advocacy is education. Our lawmakers can’t address health disparities if they don’t know what’s going on. It’s incumbent upon us to educate them.” She added that it’s also critical that such education be informed by the “lived experience” of the people receiving those services.
Jenna Hauss agreed. “We’re providing those we serve with a platform to let us know what their struggles and problems are, so we can turn around as an organization and say, ‘This is what we’re hearing about the current needs of our community,’ and give those people a voice.” Their stories become an important tool for explaining needs, advocating for new programs, and writing grants.
Michelle Merritt described the complexity of her organization’s position as a non-partisan, nonprofit health policy and advocacy organization focused solely on making sure policymakers have the information they need to make informed decisions. “One of the things I love about personal stories is that they can be a very gentle way of forcing people to confront the biases and assumptions they hold. When policymakers hear from a constituent that’s using a particular service, that puts a face to the issue and makes them more open. We’re constantly looking for ways to amplify voices in our community.”
To Be Continued
It was a busy first day, and it led into another round of discussions the following day, as well as a series of workshops on closing referral loops, leveraging data, streamlining workflows, and leading through change.
All together, the One Continuum user summit delivered a wealth of insight, perspective, experience, strategies, and inspiration to all who attended or participated. It was a living demonstration of the power of community and collaboration in action.
To watch replays of the discussions, please visit our One Continuum page:
About Unite Us
Unite Us is the nation’s leading software company bringing sectors together to improve the health and well-being of communities. We drive the collaboration to identify, deliver, and pay for services that impact whole-person health. Through Unite Us’ national network and software, community-based organizations, government agencies, and healthcare organizations are all connected to better collaborate to meet the needs of the individuals in their communities.