United Neighborhood Centers of America to Merge with Alliance for Children and Families

The 102-year-old United Neighborhood Centers of America (UNCA) will merge its members into the Alliance for Children and Families in 2014, the Milwaukee-based organizations announced today.

UNCA’s members, many of which are urban community centers and settlement houses, will become Alliance members in January. The Alliance represents about 350 members in the youth and family services industry.

The two organizations are both part of the Families International group of companies, which also includes FEI Behavioral Health and Ways to Work. and already partner in some aspects of administration and policy analysis.

2014 will serve as a “test drive” phase, said UNCA CEO Ian Bautista, during which UNCA’s member organizations can join the Alliance at the current UNCA membership rate, which ranges from $500 to $1,500 based on annual budget.

The membership dues will tick up in 2015, and could rise to the Alliance’s standard range of $1,500 up to $20,000.

The Alliance will also establish a national center for engagement and neighborhood building, which will likely be led by Bautista. The Alliance statement today suggests that grassroots advocacy will be a core part of the center:

The national resource center will also work toward uniting and amplifying the voices of neighbors and leading practitioners who endeavor to have a positive influence on public policy at all levels and throughout the organizations that work with children, families, and communities often defined as vulnerable.

“This is a concerted effort to increase our impact by amplifying the ‘settlement house way’ in both practice and policy to a broader audience,” said Alliance CEO Susan Dreyfus, in a statement issued today. “It also achieves a larger influence on the multiple systems that intersect in the lives of neighbors.”

Bautista suggested that a joining of the two might have happened years before, but there was some wariness in both directions between UNCA members and Peter Goldberg, the Alliance’s longtime CEO, who passed away in 2011.

Bautista, who has led UNCA for the past seven years, said that some members viewed Goldberg as a “fast-talking New Yorker,” and that “there was some skepticism about a power grab” if the Alliance subsumed UNCA under him.

These are leaders of organizations that represent people in communities that have “have been long deceived” and slighted by urban renewal, Bautista said.

Bautista, who calls Goldberg “a very smart person who saw UNCA as a vital piece,” said the former Alliance leader viewed “organization size as a measure of success,” a metric that is not kind to the modest budgets of many community centers and settlement houses.

The management style of current CEO Susan Dreyfus is more amenable to welcoming UNCA members” into the Alliance fold, according to Bautista. She has “connected on a human level to the broader stakeholder group,” Bautista said.

UNCA was founded in 1911 as the National Federation of Settlements, started in New York by Jane Addams and other pioneers of the settlement house movement. It changed its name to the United Neighborhood Centers of America in 1979.

UNCA’s biggest funder, the food services giant ARAMARK, was notified and is supportive of the merger, Bautista said.

John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change

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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.