United Way announces 2021 Venture Fund Awards in partnership with Aetna/CVS Health

August 5, 2021

As the region recovers from the impact of Covid-19, grants will address continued need for food security, housing stability and transitions to back to school for young children

BOSTON – Demonstrating a commitment to deepening, expanding and sustaining innovative solutions, United Way of Massachusetts Bay, in partnership with Aetna, a CVS Health Company, is today announcing the 2021 United Way Venture Fund grant awards totaling $253,000.  The 2021 United Way Venture Fund grants mark the third year of a partnership between United Way and Aetna that has awarded more than $850,000 to game-changing ventures in the community.

This year’s Venture Fund grants are being awarded to four winners from previous years to sustain or expand their original projects and to advance their work addressing pandemic-related community needs, equity and justice issues and local emerging issues that tie to social determinants of health.  The grants will address issues such as food insecurity, family homelessness, and kindergarten readiness, and are being awarded at a time when funding to ensure sustainability is critical to nonprofit organizations.

“Our vision for rebuilding more equitable and more resilient communities requires partnerships and collaborations to address issues that have only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis,” said Bob Giannino, President and CEO at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley.  “The social services sector overnight had to reimagine how to meet the needs of their families and communities during a pandemic, and together with Aetna, we are proud to fund continued innovation to ensure children, families and communities thrive.”

“Over the past year and a half, the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened the challenges of our social service agencies, adding to the pressures that the families in our communities face,” said Duncan Stuart, President of the Aetna New England Market. “At Aetna, we are committed to supporting community-based groups that improve health outcomes, particularly in under-served communities.  The grants from the United Way Venture Fund will give these organizations additional resources to make a clear impact on peoples’ health in the greater Boston area.”

The 2021 United Way Venture Fund grants are being awarded to the following four community-based partnerships:

    • Our Neighbors’ Table, which is establishing a regionwide strategy to create universal food access in northeastern Essex County. The United Way Venture Fund grant of $68,000 will help Our Neighbors’ Table to build off the success of their first Venture Fund award, which mobilized a city-wide strategy in Newburyport to create food security for all its residents by raising public awareness, increasing screening and intervention and ensuring comprehensive access to fresh, nutritious food. During the upcoming year, Our Neighbors’ Table anticipates providing over 5,100 individuals with free groceries to meet their nutrition and dietary needs and lay the groundwork to ensure the region’s 12 cities and towns will have universal food access by 2029.
    • A partnership between FamilyAid Boston and Boston Public Schools to expand a data system that identifies students who are at risk of becoming homeless and provide their families with support to services to stabilize them. Pre-pandemic estimates show there are over 3,000 Boston Public School students experiencing homelessness and an additional 900 children were at risk of becoming homeless, a number now exacerbated by the income reductions and job losses caused by the Covid-19 crisis. FamilyAid has developed a data-sharing system to help identify and engage families earlier, before they face eviction.  To date, more than 1,300 children have been screened and their parents have been connected to services. This new $75,000 United Way Venture Fund grant will provide continued support for FamilyAid to build connected data systems to drive better housing stability for families and better educational outcomes for children and will expand FamilyAid’s work to identify and track a family’s housing status and their children’s schooling into early education programs. Partners in the program, which is estimated to impact 3,000 people, will include Horizons for Homeless Children and the Boston Public Schools.
    • Expansion of the Mystic Valley YMCA’s new digital food pantry to serve an additional 24,000 individuals. The dramatic increase in families requesting food during the Covid-19 crisis created challenges for the Mystic Valley YMCA’s 900 square foot food pantry – tracking inventory, collecting household data to plan what inventory was needed and being able to send alerts to families. With its first United Way Venture Fund grant in 2020, the Mystic Valley YMCA partnered with Deep Why Design to design and launch “Your Market,” a new digital pantry to provide scalable technology for pantries of all sizes to track clients and inventory in real time and allow individuals the dignity of online ordering. With a 2021 United Way Venture Grant of $60,000, the Mystic Valley YMCA plans to expand the program by bringing in 20 new program partners, registering over 8,000 households to participate, and further utilizing text messaging and data to enhance the food pantry shopping experience.  The goal is for all food pantries in Eastern Massachusetts to have access to this computer system and to expand “digital pantries” to other locations where brick and mortar pantries are not available.
    • A collaboration of South Shore Stars and Brockton Area Multi-Services to increase capacity of early education providers to better meet the needs of young children with developmental delays during the “gap years” between when early intervention services end at age three and when they begin kindergarten. After a year when many young children had limited access to in- person learning in communities like Randolph, Weymouth and Quincy, South Shore Stars will use its 2021 Venture Fund grant of $50,000 to offer in-person coaching and assessments, offer workshops to educators and Kindergarten transition support to an estimated 200 young children and their families.