WOOSTER – Nonprofit organizations in Wayne and Holmes counties have gained a positive name for themselves based on a reputation for cooperation.

"Our community is well known for collaboration between our nonprofits," said Bobbi Douglas, executive director of OneEighty, which offers substance abuse prevention, intervention and treatment services, as well as providing shelter, advocacy and support for women who are victims of abuse.

"People around the state comment on our ability to pull together to solve community problems," Douglas said. "It has permitted us to pull down numerous state and federal dollars."

Douglas gave as an example agencies and organizations working together to launch a cold weather shelter, housed by The Salvation Army and staffed by other agencies and churches.

Krista Kidney, special projects coordinator for OneEighty, has served as the coordinator of scheduling and communication among the entities involved.

Douglas highlighted the ways nonprofit organizations can connect to meet a variety of needs in the community, calling the avenues of cohesion "a multitude of collaboration vehicles."

They encompass coalitions focusing on issues including housing; community corrections; domestic violence and sexual assault; human trafficking; and suicide prevention, in addition to an opiate task force.

Katie Koglman, executive director of United Way of Wayne and Holmes Counties, said that although she has gotten some feedback from people in the community "wish(ing) that nonprofits would work together, the fact is we do," she affirmed, using methods from referrals to quarterly meetings.

In Koglman's opinion, "In general, Holmes and Wayne counties have the best nonprofits in the area," bolstered by the generosity of area citizens and "organizations that truly have the communities' best interest at heart."

Collaborative efforts are both formal and informal, Douglas said.

"Our role as United Way is to bridge the people to the resources and donors to the organizations," Koglman said.

It's hard to keep track of just how many nonprofit organizations operate throughout the county.

"There are at least 686 registered 50(c)3s, according to the Internal Revenue Service website," said Carrolyn Salazar, United Way of Wayne and Holmes Counties' manager of public relations.

However, Salazar pointed out, this number refers only to those in Wooster, Orrville, Millersburg, Killbuck and Rittman, and may not account for nonprofits in other cities in Wayne and Holmes counties.

"Each nonprofit organization has a mission they are trying to accomplish that is unique to them," said Karen Potter, executive director of A Whole Community Inc., as well as a specific mode of operation to reach its objectives and goals.

More recently developed nonprofits, such as the one Potter founded, "arise when someone or a group has a passion to address a new need in the community, or when new methods are wanting to be tried that would meet an existing need."

From her previous employment working for the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Wayne and Holmes Counties on a community health assessment for the Ohio Department of Health, Potter "experienced the positive impact that bringing together many people and agencies to work on complex issues can have."

"We all have something to share with one another in our community, whether time, money, or other resources," Potter said.

Douglas commented on community issues most pressing at this time.

"I would say the 'hot' issue right now is homelessness and the lack of affordable housing," she said, adding, "This affects adults and children.

"The need for employees is also a key issue currently," Douglas said, adding, "Substance abuse plays a role in both of these issues."

"Definitely, the hot issues rise and fall," she said.

Specifically related to youth, Douglas said, "the following issues are key: transitional age youth, need for adult role models, number of kids in (out-of-home) placement."

"Yes, the needs in our community are great," said Koglman, noting United Way tracks needs through the Wayne Holmes Information Referral Exchange (WHIRE).

But, she said, "We have adequate organizations meeting those very needs.

"Funding is always an issue," Koglman acknowledged, "so it is important to pool our resources and fund the existing organizations."

The role played by the Wayne County Community Foundation is "to provide philanthropic leadership to our community," said Sara Patton, its executive director.

"To that end, we encourage individuals and businesses to share part of their resources for the good of the community; assist other charitable organizations to create and manage funds to help them carry our their missions; invest and disburse funds devoted to charitable purposes," Patton said.

Patton cited 140 scholarship funds which last year provided $600,000 in assistance to Wayne County residents, and highlighted a "twice yearly competitive grants program open to all nonprofit organizations throughout Wayne County."

Recognizing the tight budgets on which most nonprofits function, "we often support capital or capacity-building projects, or pilot programs that would be beyond the reach of normal operating budgets," Patton said.

With the future in mind, WCCF trustees staff a Youth Foundation "with the goal of teaching students while they are still in high school what a robust spirit of philanthropy means to a community like ours," Patton said.

The spirit of unity is what holds the network of diverse organizations together to address a variety of issues, needs and community endeavors.

Stan Popp, executive director of the Wayne Metropolitan Housing Authority, when interviewed about his organization's recent Worthy Works award from the Wooster Area Chamber of Commerce, said, "There is never a turf war."

Each organization is a part of an overall effort to improve life for the people who reside here.

"They do it together," Popp said.

Because avoiding overlap and competition is important, according to Koglman, "As United Way, we feel one of our roles is to constantly check the pulse, understand who is doing what and see how the needs are changing.

"That way our collective group of nonprofits can proactively respond to the needs in our community," she said.