Opinion: UWAC is committed to diversity

This week’s writer is Helena Van Voorst, executive director of the United Way of Addison County. This originally appeared in a UWAC newsletter.

UWAC’s mission to “mobilize the generosity and compassion of individuals and organizations in Addison County to improve lives and strengthen the community” calls for our board and staff to be equity leaders. Advocating for the health, education, and financial stability of everyone in Addison County is what we’ve done for 52 years — but we still have room for growth in how we approach this important work, specifically as it relates to racial equity. 

Recent events have exposed how systemic racism, prejudice and privilege across every sector get in the way of United Way accomplishing its mission. UWAC’s board and staff are committed to the ongoing work of being an anti-racist organization. With leadership from Middlebury College’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, we will invite local nonprofits to join us in learning what critical reflective conversations must be had regarding our personal and institutional biases, a first step to dismantling barriers to access, opportunity, and full participation. (More information on this learning opportunity to follow.)

When COVID-19 reached Vermont, many of the systems we relied on to care for our community suddenly didn’t work anymore. Innovation was demanded of UWAC and of every one of our nonprofit partners in order to continue helping the people who needed us the most. Waiting was not an option. New collaborations, programs, and resources formed almost overnight — and they worked! Together, as a network of nonprofits made stronger by your commitment to United Way, we (virtually) linked arms, overcame old barriers, tried new things, and ultimately realized tremendous impact during a pandemic that strained our health and human services providers in unprecedented ways. 

And with that energy we must continue innovating to bring racial equity to Addison County because, once again, waiting is not an option — now is the time. We know that people of color were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. We know that white people are drastically underrepresented in Vermont’s prisons and jails compared to people of color. We know that nonprofit leadership lacks racial diversity — UWAC included. In the months ahead, we will share more about this journey and how UWAC plans to, once again, link arms with other organizations engaged and/or leading in this work to make lasting change in Addison County. 

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Addison County Independent