The news on Monday that Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman had sent a letter to Mesa United Way inquiring about the feasibility of joining forces is welcome news for East Valley leaders working for more effective use of human services dollars.
As the Tribune's Blake Herzog reported on Monday, Berman's inquiry came at the urging of several Gilbert business leaders who believe there would be more local involvement in United Way if there were more assurances dollars raised in the community went to solve problems in the community.
That, in a nutshell, is why Mesa community leaders decided in 2000 to go their own way, ending an agreement with Valley of the Sun United Way, which includes every other Valley city.
At first blush, a separate Mesa United Way raises questions of efficiency and duplication. As one Valley of the Sun official told Herzog, “From an efficiency standpoint, it doesn't make sense to have multiple organizations doing the exact same thing.”
But Mesa United Way doesn't do the exact same thing as Valley of the Sun United Way. Not by a long shot. Here's how former Mesa Mayor David Udall, a longtime leader in Mesa United Way, explained it in a Tribune commentary published in December 2000:
“Mesa United Way takes pride in its role as the community chest that brings together various committed partners — the city government, Mesa Public Schools, Mesa Community College, Arizona State University East, and our Chamber of Commerce — to identify issues affecting Mesa and contribute a plan of action to address those issues. Mesa United Way is not merely a clearinghouse for donations to be passed on to other charities. We are an active participant in the events affecting Mesa, and we work in concert with others to make Mesa a more viable, healthy, and safe community to live and work.”
Then-Mesa Mayor Wayne Brown predicted in 2000 that other East Valley cities would keep an eye on Mesa United Way and possibly consider joining forces if it found its more coordinated and direct approach to problem-solving attractive. And not coincidentally, that hand-on approach also has helped make the Mesa United Way's annual pledge drives successful year after year.
Berman is to be lauded for opening the door to a potentially more effective partnership for meeting the town's human-services challenges. Other East Valley cities should consider the possibilities as well.