Cindy Parr: Gatekeeping fosters collaboration

For nearly two and a half years I have been writing columns on any number of topics related to nonprofits and the services they offer Carroll County residents.

Anyone familiar with the county's nonprofit agencies will tell you their service provision is essential to the wonderful quality of life we enjoy here in Carroll.

It is my hope that moving into 2014 there will be a better understanding and appreciation of these services, their respective agencies and why they are critical threads in our county fabric.

Ironically, this time of year the light seems to shine on this subject a little brighter as budget submissions for county government are due in mid-December. For agencies receiving any level of county funding, there is a requirement to submit a budget by mid-December for the next fiscal year. Much work and attention go into preparing our budgets during the month of November and part of December.

For the last three years, in support of Human Services Programs' budget, I have always tried to highlight the level of service we provide here in Carroll County. I have written and given presentations on the many programs that HSP offers the county's low-income and at-risk citizens.

In each presentation, without fail, I utilize the word "gatekeeper." I see this word as one that provides the appropriate visual for much of what we do. It represents an adherence to the responsibilities to which we are committed.

Those responsibilities are not just about our programs. They are also for many of our partners and sister agencies that depend on us to assess clients and deem them eligible. Our ability to do this ensures that services are not duplicated and our resources can be used to their greatest potential.

It also represents the commitment we have to our clients; working with them to identify suitable services which match their individual situations.

So you may ask, why is this gatekeeper role so important? Well, let's start with the definition of gatekeeper. Wikipedia has multiple meanings associated with gatekeeper. The one that gets my attention and seems so fitting to what we do states, "monitoring and determining passage through a gate." It's as simple as that.

Our policies and procedures for clients are centered on monitoring. With each program we oversee, there is a requirement to report on a quarterly or annual basis how that program is running.

The case management services we provide in emergency assistance, housing, family support and shelter rely on observation, examination and scrutiny. Once we have determined a client's eligibility for any program, we do our very best to help them meet their specific objectives.

Clients are different and their circumstances vary, so our goal is to align them with the proper programs that lead them to self-sufficiency. Our ability to monitor their progress provides that hand up that most times is the difference between a client who succeeds and one who stumbles.

Our gatekeeping efforts help clients "fill in the blanks" so they can meet their basic needs. Our collaboration with public, private and nonprofit partners is the fuel that fires this effort.

We are very fortunate at HSP to have an extremely dedicated staff that works to help strengthen individual and family development to eliminate the negative consequences of poverty. We do this through our programs that are geared to assisting people on their journeys to become economically self-sufficient.

Cindy Parr is executive director of Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc.