United Way sparks conversations about community

United Way sparks conversations about community
May 27
11:02 2021

The United Way of Forsyth County continues to push the needle forward with their efforts to help the community. For months they have been holding virtual panel discussions called “Front Porch Conversation” (FPC), that tackles many issues that are plaguing those in need around Forsyth County.

The most recent conversation was centered on faith and homelessness around the county. That is a big issue that impacts many individuals throughout Forsyth county.

“It was more so a topic that was relevant to our community in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County that was getting a lot of conversations going and we wanted to bring some faith leaders, community advocates, and nonprofit expertise to this whole conversation,” said Cedric Parker, United Way faith based-engagement coordinator. “I think we had a good conversation and a lot of good information was shared.”

The Front Porch Conversations have been a specific way for the United Way to continue gathering information about the community they serve. With the pandemic limiting group gatherings, they concluded the FPC would be an effective way to reach out to the community at large.

“One of the things at United Way we have struggled to do during the pandemic is figuring out how we continue community conversations about important issues,” said Andrea Kurtz, senior director of housing strategies for United Way.  

“I think it was really powerful to have this group of people speak to the issue of affordable housing and the needs and challenges in our community right now.”

Kurtz said affordable housing is another key issue affecting many people in the surrounding communities and it doesn’t just affect one demographic.

“The truth of the matter is everybody, from 0 to 120 percent of area mean income, is struggling to find housing right now. The city’s housing study that was released about two years ago now predicts that we have at least a 16,000-unit shortfall.”

For Kurtz, she feels the conversation about attacking affordable housing was a positive one. With people from different perspectives chiming in on the subject, Kurtz and Parker feel they are closer to a solution.

“One of the things that was nice about the panel was having folks from both the state level and other communities,” she said. “Sometimes we get so focused on our own problems that we forget that we are not alone in them.

“I think it was a good conversation to sort of talk about what we are doing locally with both the challenges and opportunities that are there which are similar to other communities.”

Kurtz stated that affordable housing is a nationwide issue and looks different in urban areas versus rural communities. She says it has to do with wages not keeping up with inflation over the years.

According to Parker, the feedback they have received has been very positive. They share the virtual meetings on their Facebook feeds, which allows individuals to ask questions in real time and receive an answer.

“Right now, I think it’s something that people are responding to fairly well and hopefully, we can keep it going and get better at it,” Parker said.

Kurtz added, “As a panelist, I was very pleasantly surprised by how engaged the virtual audience was in terms of feeding in questions. It felt like a good kind of engagement. It was a really wide range of people, which I don’t always see.”

For Kurtz, she is motivated by the progress she sees throughout the city, but also realizes there is still work to be done to reach their ultimate goal.

“For me, housing is a justice issue more than anything else, because it is so core and foundational to everything else that happens in a person’s life,” Kurtz continued. “Your housing drives what you have access to in the community.

“Particularly in the East Winston communities where Place Matters is, as a community we have disinvested in housing for so long, it is at this point a critical justice issue for people. For me, we can’t move fast enough to address decades of disinvestment, so every little win keeps me going, but there is still more to do.”

“Being able to be a part of the solution is important for me,” Parker added. “It makes you feel hopeful that people are having these tough conversations and want to get involved.”

Parker stated the United Way will take a break from the Front Porch Conversations during the summer months. During that time, they will evaluate what areas they would like to address in the fall.

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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