United Way has vital role in community

Year after year, our Washington County community has seen many changes, yet your 96-year-old United Way of Washington County (UWWC) has stayed its mission with awareness toward key impact strategies. These strategies are essential in moving people from poverty to possibilities and building healthy communities by improving their education, financial stability, and health. A separate 501©3 organization of the United Way Worldwide, the UWWC follows strict state and federal guidelines, in addition to its bylaws, code of ethics, and established policies to ensure that its mission – to unite people, resources, and organizations to improve lives in Washington County – is adhered to.

The UWWC’s Community Impact Fund is one of our programs where donors’ dollars are wisely invested in high-quality, results-oriented, local nonprofit programs. A unique United Way process that brings together community members to review and recommend program funding occurs biannually, the Community Impact Fund ensures that community members’ donations are directed through grants to multiple nonprofits whose local programs center on WWWC’s mission. This fund is a staple which is funded year after year through Workplace Giving Campaigns, corporate donations, individual donations, community supporter’s estate planning (where United Way is named as beneficiary), and finally, through fundraising.

Every two years, the UWCC welcomes nonprofits to submit grant requests for programs to the Community Impact Fund. The nonprofits are aware prior to submitting their grant application all the requirements and steps to follow throughout the process. Currently, 45 approved programs in education, financial stability and health are involved. In turn, community volunteers will serve as panelists and after two weeks of presentations, the Community Impact Fund Panel has made its final recommendations to the UWCC’s Board of Directors for Community Impact Funding for the upcoming grant cycle. The panel consists of board members and other community volunteers who review grant applications and listen and ask questions to the different nonprofits when they present their need for funding.

I was one of those community volunteers 23 years ago and continue to be one. I would like to share my story as it relates to my first time serving on the Community Impact Fund Panel.

On the second day of listening to the presentation, Melinda, an individual who benefited from a particular program, came along with the nonprofit to talk about her own success story. As I listened, I kept telling myself this doesn’t happen in little Washington. I spent my entire life in Washington and never thought that the need was that of a big city. Melinda told a story of how she ended up in a homeless shelter, lost her family and friends, lost all her money, and had no idea where life was going to take her. As she provided every detail, I thought how does this happen? Or better yet, how does this happen to a person who had earned a doctorate degree and once had a successful career? Well, it does happen and often without warning. When I made it to my car at the end of the day, I sat with overwhelming sorrow thinking that without the commitment of the United Way of Washington County and its ability to seek donations, who knows what may have happened to this person. And now 23 years later, I still see an overwhelming need for everyone in Washington County to understand the necessity for United Way of Washington County’s mission.

Over the years of being involved with the United Way of Washington County, I have seen Workplace Giving Campaigns where local businesses and their employees have supported through pledges with absolutely no hesitation. I have been in awe of other local businesses stepping up to support our mission as well as endless number of individuals donors from all neighborhoods represented, giving what they can because they recognize the importance of their local United Way. Yes, there are plenty of nonprofits where donations can be made in our community. In fact, many of those nonprofits also receive support through our United Way. The UWCC is grateful for the many loyal donors, giving year after year, who see the need for the existence of our local United Way.

You can recognize the need of our presence when a variety of volunteer community members are brought together to serve on the Community Impact Fund Panel to review grant applications and make recommendations regarding funding to requested nonprofits.

You can understand the need of our presence when fellow neighbors call 2-1-1, the United Way’s PA 211 Southwest resource line that aids in recommending human service resources right here in Washington County.

You can feel the giving spirit of our presence when it brings together community volunteers with local nonprofits on LIVE UNITED Day of Service, a day when employees volunteer their day to lend a giving hand in Washington County.

If you are new to Washington County or are not knowledgeable about your United Way, whether you are a resident, business owner, or an employee of a local business, we invite you to be introduced, or possibly be refreshed, to join with our committed supporters to learn more at www.unitedwaywashco.org about your United Way, the United Way of Washington County. Plus, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter, @UnitedWayWashCo.

Cynthia Castriota Dorazio is the United Way of Washington County Board Chair.