Prior to 2020 and during the COVID pandemic, the United Way of Door County held community conversations both to provide a voice to the community regarding childcare challenges and also to help the community understand the issues related to childcare licensing and staffing. United Way of Door County also began working collaboratively and learning from existing providers.
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 was a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus act. With the funds allocated to Wisconsin, Governor Tony Evers aimed to get people back to work. In October 2021, the United Way of Door County submitted a proposal for the Workforce Innovation Grant. The proposal focused on childcare, housing, and broadband in Door County. In December 2021, the organization was awarded $3.2 million.
“Part of these dollars will go toward new and improved childcare spaces. A portion will go toward piloting new business models that will help childcare centers bring in more revenue through alternative methods, which will keep tuition costs affordable and teacher wages competitive,” said Amy Kohnle, Executive Director of United Way Door County.
The grant funds will improve existing childcare centers, renovating one center and building a completely new facility for another. One of these alternative business models is to have the center that is being remodeled as a host site for a community-based 4K program. Some of the funds will also go toward recruiting teachers and providing them affordable housing options. United Way of Door County also provides grants to in-home care providers looking to improve their services.
“Accessing the grant funds to get these efforts underway has been an adventure,” said Kohnle. “I am so thankful to the Hawkins Ash CPAs team. They have helped us understand a lot of the legalities.
Executive Director Q&A
United Way of Door County
Kohnle grew up just west of Green Bay WI and attended the Pulaski School District. She was active in school activities such as forensics and color guard and her church. She was heavily involved in Shawano County 4-H. 4-H gave her the opportunity to learn new things, travel, and make lifelong friends. 4-H taught her the value of volunteerism and community, two things that have stuck with her.
She attended UW–Stevens Point and graduated with a BS in Psychology, Sociology, and Interpersonal Communications. After graduation, she became part of the first AmeriCorp Class with a position with the Girl Scouts in Wausau, WI. Part of her focus was to bring Girl Scouting to minority populations, including the Hearing Impaired and Hmong families.
In 1999, Kohnle started as the first full-time executive director of United Way of Door County. She has grown their own campaign from $300,000 to $782,000. Their annual budget fluctuates between $1.5 – $3 Million, depending on additional grant funding for internal program partners. In addition to serving as executive director, Kohnle volunteers for various community organizations and is a member of the Sturgeon Bay Noon Rotary Club.
In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her friends and family, traveling, and enjoying live music.
Q. What are some things you know now that you wish you knew when you first started as a nonprofit leader?
A. One thing that I share with my team is that it is ok to fail. The only way that we are going to create long-term sustainable change is to try. When we try, we aren’t always successful on the first attempt, we learn from that and keep moving forward.
Q. What has been your biggest source of pride as executive director?
A. Bringing community members together to work to address concerns in our community. Examples include creating a school-based mental health collaborative, distributing food boxes during COVID, and creating a nonprofit that focuses on transportation.
Q. What other executive directors or philanthropic leaders do you look up to?
A. I am fortunate to be a part of the United Way of Wisconsin network. When I started in this position over 20 years ago, the other United Way Executive Directors were an amazing resource. The faces may have changed but this network continues to be a group of people that will guide and support each other.
Q. How do you see the organization changing in the next two years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?
A. I believe that United Way of Door County will continue to evolve to meet the needs of the community. This may mean program development, training resources, or back-office services to mention a few. I know that change is necessary. I believe in hearing everyone’s voice. People want to be heard; they have great ideas. By listening, we can work to create the United Way that is what Door County community members want and need.