NOTE: This originally appeared in the Tulsa World:
The only way to create real change is to bring together talented teams and community members, who, armed with data, move toward the same goals. I’ve seen the results time and time again while mayor of Tulsa and now as dean of the University of Tulsa’s Collins College of Business.
My belief in the spirit of collaborative problem solving meant I answered “yes” when the Tulsa Area United Way asked me to co-chair its 99th fall fundraising campaign. Now, partnering with Karl Neumaier as co-chair to raise $25.8 million for our community, we continue to learn about the ways TAUW mobilizes the caring power of communities to address our most consequential challenges.
TAUW works with urgency as an interconnected, interdependent ecosystem of nonprofits, businesses, donors, volunteers, policymakers and advocates, harnessing the power of data and connection to solve problems together in innovative ways.
Our community faces increasing homelessness and a severe housing deficit. TAUW’s partner nonprofits like the Tulsa Day Center, Family & Children’s Services and GRAND Mental Health are working together to close the gap. The Day Center’s Rapid Rehousing Program provided homes for 400 individuals, including 66 families and 121 children in 2022. Its 93% housing retention rate is proof that rapid rehousing works.
Unfortunately, we know from the Citywide Housing Assessment that we need at least 13,000 housing units over the next decade to address the housing shortage. In response, we’re collaborating with area leaders to develop accountable strategies from housing development to addiction treatment so that everyone can thrive.
Safe affordable housing, and treatment for mental health and addiction mean kids perform better in school, workers are more productive and investment flows into our businesses.
No single entity can solve these problems alone, so TAUW also supports eight transformative Community Collaboration initiatives.
For example, A Way Home for Tulsa is comprised of 49 local organizations working together in outreach, engagement, prevention and evaluation, all aimed to help people experiencing homelessness or those on the brink connect to vital services and housing. Since March 2020, A Way Home for Tulsa’s providers have helped 2,675 individuals and families achieve housing.
Other partners like Hunger Free Oklahoma and the Healthy Minds Policy Initiative secured major grants to create lasting change based on best practice models. One in five children in the Tulsa area live with hunger, and 28,000 area youth live with a mental health disorder. Thanks to the partnerships at Hunger Free and Healthy Minds, we can and will do better for our region’s children.
United Way collects data from all the programs they support, but sometimes data paired with a story brings everything into perspective.
This past spring, TAUW, Visit Tulsa and the Tulsa Sports Commission partnered with Housing Solutions, BeHeard Movement and other local service providers to pilot a one-day Pop Up Care Village in downtown Tulsa.
Nearly 430 individuals experiencing homelessness received immediate vital services from more than 40 partners. Guests accessed showers, laundry facilities, haircuts, mental health services, dental care, phones, case management, food, suicide awareness education, veteran assistance, veterinary care and more.
One grateful man shared it had been months since his last shower. Another began substance abuse treatment that very day and found a foster parent for his dogs. Thanks to compassion and the connective tissue of our United Way partnerships, they found hope.
As we raise money for the 99th United Way campaign and prepare for our second century of community impact, we remember those whose lives are better because of our generous donors and partners working together. We remember those who found pathways to opportunities and a better way — The United Way.
Kathy Taylor, former Tulsa mayor and Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce and Tourism, has served as the Genave King Rogers Dean of the TU Collins College of Business since July 2021.