Community-Based Organizations Spotlight Innovative Social Ventures Sponsored by United Way Venture Fund

September 22, 2022

Grants help sustain and expand solutions addressing food security, housing stability, and education

MALDEN, Mass. – United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley today celebrated the impact achieved over the three years of the Venture Fund, a program funded by Aetna/CVS Health to advance health equity and improve health outcomes in the region by positively influencing social factors such as access to housing, food security, employment, and education.

Today, representatives from Aetna, United Way, and the four 2021 Venture Fund grantees visited Mystic Valley YMCA to celebrate and spotlight the award-winning social ventures. The 2021 winners were: FamilyAid Boston, Mystic Valley YMCA, Our Neighbors’ Table, and South Shore Stars.

Since 2019, United Way has awarded $850,000 to innovative projects through the Venture Fund.  Seeded by Aetna/CVS Health, the United Way Venture Fund has served as a catalyst for putting promising new ideas into practice. The Venture Fund aims to identify and then support nonprofits that are developing impactful, innovative solutions to community challenges. The partnerships are inherently cross-sector and have the potential to create population-level change, when implemented at scale. Thursday’s celebration demonstrated how community-based organizations awarded grants are tackling challenges such as food insecurity, homelessness and supporting children who have experienced trauma, with impactful, innovative solutions.

“We are very proud and delighted to support the innovative work being done across Massachusetts to address food and housing insecurity, as well as educational opportunities for children. These programs help families live healthier lives and create a lasting positive impact on the communities in which they live,” said Duncan Stuart, President, New England Market at Aetna, a CVS Health Company.

With support from the Venture Fund, Mystic Valley YMCA was able to scale and further develop an expansion program of its onsite food pantry. The “Your Market” digital food pantry leverages technology to address food insecurity by providing software for area pantries of all sizes to track inventory and understand concentration of demand.

The technology has led to greater transparency for shoppers, increased shopper choice, healthier and culturally appropriate food selections, and easier access to food. The service is the only emergency food service program in the state with a centralized database of users, or food pantry shoppers. The streamlined collection and sharing of limited personal data allow for a more dignified and welcoming shopping experience.

“The United Way Venture Fund has been instrumental in supporting our partners’ innovative initiatives. The funding has helped these organizations build infrastructure and capacity for critical community services that have profound, far-reaching impact,” said Bob Giannino, President and CEO of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “It was incredible to see firsthand how these social ventures are contributing to the health of our communities. We are so grateful to Aetna for funding this innovative work and for our continued partnership.  We’re excited to see these groundbreaking programs continue to grow.”

During the event, employees from Aetna spent time volunteering at the food pantry, helping to pack and distribute produce, restock shelves, guide shoppers through the market, and assist in using the software to register and check-in shoppers. In addition, Aetna engaged with shoppers by distributing reusable grocery bags with healthy recipes available in multiple languages.

The event also featured participation from executives and leaders of all four Venture Fund award winners. More information about the other three social ventures follows:

FamilyAid Boston partnered with Horizons for Homeless Children to secure housing for more than 1,000 children and parents experiencing homelessness through a shared data system with Boston Public Schools that allows for a more coordinated approach to supporting children and families experiencing homelessness.  Integrating deeper, data-driven partnerships during the pandemic also enhanced educational support and decreased food insecurity.

Our Neighbors’ Table mobilized the City of Newburyport to create food security for all children and their families, raising public awareness of food insecurity and increasing screening and intervention. Our Neighbors’ Table has served 2,200 individuals since the start of the project and they aim to serve 5,100 by the end of the year.

South Shore Stars, with locations in Quincy, Randolph, and Weymouth, provides early education and childcare with a special focus on supporting preschool-age children with developmental delays and those who have experienced trauma. Working in collaboration with Brockton Area Multi-Services, their grant supported in-person coaching and assessments, workshops for educators, and Kindergarten transition support to an estimated 230 young children and their families.​