Visiting the UFO

Gary Lester

My friend and I were out running errands when I said I had to stop at the United Fund office. “We’re going to visit the UFO?” he asked. Now I’ve been involved one way or another with the United Fund of Warren County for decades and have taken advantage of many opportunities to serve and have fun with this wonderful organization. But referring to the headquarters as “the UFO” had somehow escaped me.

And while it’s a great coincidence and quite jocular, there is an element of truth when you get to know the people and programs involved. They are out of this world! (Get it? UFO… out of this world…. )

The idea of a United Way or a United Fund is an old one. I imagine it was an experiment to see if a united community effort could be more successful than the “shotgun” approach with a bunch or organizations fund-raising independently. Was it successful? It sure was, and is, in Warren County!

These days, the effort raises more than $650,000 annually from businesses, industries, and private contributions. The total is divided among 19 worthy non-profits who in turn use it for the benefit of people in Warren County.

There are some special features of our program. Agencies cannot exist with just the donation from United Fund; they have to have funds from other sources, too. U.F. funds do offset expenses so more money is available for the agencies’ services. (Many offer free or reduced-cost services.) And, not a penny of contributions is used for administration of the United Fund; all the cash goes to the agencies. The Community Foundation of Warren County, a philanthropic organization funded by private donations, is an administrator of a bunch of endowments. It covers all the costs of the program.

I heard an interesting demographic a few weeks ago. There are about 18,000 working people in Warren County. The goal for this year’s U.F. campaign is $675,000. Dividing that by the number of working people means the goal could be met if EVERYONE donated $.72 a week or $1.45 a pay if paid bi-weekly.

Let’s look at it another way. If every working person gave $1.00 a week (or $2.00 a pay) the total would be about $936,000! Keep in mind that some people give much more than a buck a week and retirees, businesses, and industries donate too. It would not be unrealistic to estimate a total double of this year’s goal! Imagine the impact on services provided to the community!

A critical issue now, as the once-a-year campaign is in full swing, is to get the needs of the agencies broadcast as widely and deeply into the community as possible. It occurred to me that a way to do that might be to talk not in terms of what the U.F. agencies need, but what needs they meet! As familiar as I am with United Fund agencies’ programs, and as I compiled a list of needs met, this new angle astounded me. Here’s what I came up with for a list of needs U.F. agencies meet.

If you need crisis services, we have the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, A Safe Place, and Caring for Life taking on active roles. If you need rehabilitative or support services for people with disabilities, we have Don Mills Achievement Center, BEi, New Hope Assistance Dogs, and Ruth M. Smith Center. Mental health and emotional support services are provided by Hospice of Warren County and Family Services of Warren County. Senior Citizens’ needs for socialization and education are met by The Allegheny Community Center and the Sheffield Area Hospitality Center. For area youth who need recreational, fitness, social, educational, character-building experiences, we have 4-H, the Girl Scouts, the Boy Scouts, The Warren Area Student Union, and the Warren YMCA – the list of programs at the Y from daycare to LiveStrong, to swimming lessons and teams could fill the space of this column. Dental needs are met by Warren and Tidioute Dental Centers. Then there’s the Jefferson DeFrees Family Center meeting all kinds of needs including day care, fitness and wellness, and the housing of other community activities.

If there’s a family in the county who hasn’t been touched in a positive way by one of these agencies, I’d be surprised. No doubt they deserve broad support. And remember, a buck a week can have a huge impact. Pitch in, folks, our “out of this world” United Fund agencies will meet a lot of needs with your donation.

Gary Lester is a lifetime area resident, a former photographer for the Times-Observer, former market manager for WhirleyDrinkworks, retired Executive Director of Family Services of Warren County, and current Director of Leadership Warren County. He is a life-long student and commentator on human behavior.