Leading the United Way

By Erik Furlan

United Way of Central Maryland President and CEO Franklyn Baker describes the transition to his new position as “natural.” That’s thanks in large part to his 20+ years of experience in health care and human services work with organizations like BlueCross BlueShield Association, Children’s National Media Center, Volunteers of America and Greenpeace USA.

Acknowledging that Greenpeace was a departure from health care and human service, Baker said it gave him a strong understanding of how to manage a national organization and develop international connections.

“Most of my career has been devoted to helping the homeless and those who have health care issues—the underinsured and uninsured, those on Medicare and Medicaid and veterans,” Baker continued. “I think everything that I’ve done prior to joining the organization last November directly ties to the work United Way does every single day.”

Through a focus on education, housing, employment and health, the United Way helps put families on a road to stability and, eventually, self-sufficiency.

“Those four building blocks to a self-sufficient life, along with our 2-1-1 Maryland United Way Helpline [which allows United Way to determine needs in the community], really serve as the backbone of what we do here at United Way of Central Maryland, and inform our work going forward in terms of assessing need and developing new initiatives and programs to meet those needs,” Baker said.

Baker said it costs about an eighth as much to ensure that a family has access to the resources they need to be stable than to house them in a shelter. United Way’s work on family stability is aimed at ensuring that access. And it’s something that affords a unique opportunity for local business to become involved in improving lives and communities.

“Our Path to Stability initiative, which we know will have proven success for those in need, requires only a $5,000 investment from corporations, individuals and others in central Maryland to ‘adopt’ a family in need,” Baker said, “This is an investment that will really make a big difference—one family at a time.”

Just three months into his position, Baker said one particular family stability program—the United Way Family Center at Benjamin Franklin High School in Baltimore—has had notable and measurable success.

“It’s an excellent example of what we call place-based, or site-based, on-going work, where we’re providing wraparound services for families,” Baker said. “There, we currently serve 18 teen moms and dads who can take advantage of free, on-site childcare—often a very large expense in a family’s budget—right in their school. This helps these student mothers and fathers stay on track to graduate because of convenient on-site childcare in their school, and other family support services such as a parent/child attachment curriculum. Ultimately, we know this will help their families succeed.”

United Way also offers 15 “place-based” Family Stability sites throughout central Maryland, including those in Baltimore City and Howard, Harford, Carroll, Anne Arundel and Baltimore Counties. In the next several months, there are plans are to add three more place-based sites, bringing the total to 18.

Named one of the “Faces to Watch in 2017” by the Baltimore Business Journal, Baker has three overarching goals as President and CEO of United Way of Central Maryland: to empower struggling families, to make the organization a preferred partner for those who want to give or volunteer in the effort to strengthen families and communities, and to be a trusted convener and collaborator for innovative services that drive social change across the region.

Physical location may help. Late last year, UWCM announced plans to move their headquarters to the iconic Montgomery Park building in Southwest Baltimore. Baker sees the move as a positive.

“Our new offices are located in one of the many at-risk, high-need communities that we serve,” he explained. “The fact that we are going to be in Montgomery Park, surrounded by those communities for which we provide critical services, is very emblematic and symbolic of our mission.”

Though his organization serves a large minority population, Baker still sees challenges for some leaders of color. Regardless of where an organization is located or whom it serves, he said there are still issues in finding high-level jobs or networking with other leaders of color. Beyond that, though, there is one that can strike at the heart of the organization itself. 

“[One] challenge is the inability to consistently attract significant donations and meaningful financial support from some of the regions mid-size and large companies and foundations,” Baker said.

According to its annual audit, in fiscal year 2016, UWCM secured $30.9 million in campaign revenues; total supportive services were $7.3 million. United Way’s commitment to additional on-site community services that directly impact those in need and provide sustainable and measurable change “will help put more and more Marylanders on the path to self-sufficiency,” said Baker. “And that is something we can all get behind. It’s good for our families and individuals in need, and good for our communities.”

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