We Care was established in 1983 to leverage resources of several faith communities to provide the structure needed for judicious assistance to those seeking aid. Working in partnership with Community Services Consortium (CSC), We Care provides financial help to individuals and families in Benton County who need one-time, short-term assistance on an emergency basis. Funds to support We Care come from 19 local religious organizations in addition to individuals and businesses. The organization has minimal overhead, and more than 99 percent of funds collected go directly to help people in need. Assistance checks are not paid to the person seeking aid, but to the entity to which they owe money, such as a landlord, utility company, or medical provider. Applicants are given aid only when no other help is available from public or private sources and it appears that they will be sustainable after receiving one-time financial support. The current maximum gift is $400 per applicant.
CSC pre-screens We Care applicants, ensuring that the applicant meets We Care’s criteria, then a representative from CSC takes the applications to the all-volunteer, five-member We Care board of directors. “Usually, we’re a last resort,” said Megha Shyam, president of the We Care board of directors. “In other words, CSC looks to other community service organizations first.”
The board meets weekly throughout the year to make decisions about who to help. Although the board receives detailed information about each applicant’s situation, the applicant remains anonymous to the board. Johanna Peterson, We Care treasurer, said that because the organization’s funds are limited, they usually cannot help everyone who applies for aid, which makes decisions about who to help difficult. Considerations include the number of people affected (taking children and other dependents into account), urgency, and whether one applicant is more sustainable than another. For example, in determining urgency, if a family is about to be evicted or a single person is a week late with the rent, the family facing eviction is more likely to get help. From the perspective of sustainability, if someone has a job and can pay rent, but has no money for move-in costs, that person would be more likely to receive help than someone with no ongoing means of support.
“Sometimes it’s a very agonizing process because we know they’ve all been screened and we know they’re all truly in need, and they are emergency situations,” Johanna said. “But we also consider sustainability—is this going to help them, or are we just perpetuating something that’s not going to work for them in the long run? If, in the next month, they’re going to be in the same situation, helping them for one month is usually not a choice we make.”
Shyam said one of the major challenges for board members is to not get personally involved. “When you’re sitting on the board and looking at all these cases, one of the disciplines the board members have to really work on—and it’s not easy—is to be sure to not pull out your checkbook and write a check,” he said. “You could be doing that every week.”
We Care has three membership meetings each year. Representatives from each organization that support the program are invited. The board is elected by members attending the meetings.
We Care started this endowed fund with BCF when an anonymous donor offered a generous donation and requested that it be used to establish an endowment. Once word got around, four other people made donations, providing a nest egg to establish the fund. After Johanna did some research into where to establish the endowment, We Care decided that because the organization supports Benton County residents, it made sense to place it with BCF. Funds will go to the endowment only by direct request; all other funds go to provide weekly support for those in need. Anyone can contribute to the fund through the foundation.
Establishing the We Care Endowment Fund will also provide more visibility for the organization. To maximize their ability to help the needy, We Care has limited its efforts to promote the organization. “I think one of our biggest drawbacks is that people just don’t know about us,” said Johanna. “Even many of the people in our supporting churches don’t know about us.”