United Way of Southern Chester County looks to finish another strong campaign
By Steven Hoffman
As the United Way of Southern Chester County’s current campaign moves into its final stages, the organization is still about $100,000 short of its $1.25 million fundraising goal for the fiscal year.
While officials are optimistic that collections between now and the time when the current campaign officially draws to a close in August will enable them to reach the goal, they know that no matter how much they raise, the needs of the community will still surpass the help that the United Way can provide to dozens of non-profit organizations throughout southern Chester County.
For the current fiscal year, the United Way of Southern Chester County (UWSCC) received $300,000 more in requests from agencies than it could fund.
On May 20, UWSCC officials gathered for the annual meeting to review the current campaign, to discuss the programs the United Way will be funding, and to welcome new board members for the next fiscal year.
Martie Olson, the president of this year’s campaign, explained that the UWSCC does much more than collect and distribute the donations it receives. The organization has implemented several different strategies to, in Olson’s words, “make every donor dollar impactful.”
She explained, “For every dollar donated to the United Way, we add a value with…initiatives and services.”
One such service is the Literacy in Financial Training (LIFT) program, where volunteer mentors are paired with individuals who need help budgeting for their monthly expenses.
The United Way also provides mentoring services to the leaders of agencies in the area, so that those agencies can operate as efficiently as possible. These mentoring services are provided at no cost.
UWSCC officials also coordinate two fundraisers, the Chocolate Lovers Festival and the Unionville-Chadds Ford Family Night Out, and they raised a total of $21,713 for the current fiscal year through these events.
Carrie Freeman, the CEO of the UWSCC, is very involved with a new initiative in the area, the Family Promise of Southern Chester County, a group working to help homeless families.
“Our executive director, Carrie Freeman, does a great job for the United Way of Southern Chester County,” said Olson. “One of her roles is to be involved in the community and with the other philanthropic agencies to help identify needs and areas of concern. A few years ago, Carrie and some other agency directors began to talk about the growing issue of homelessness in our area. In the 2013-2014 school year, a survey showed that just in our little area—including Kennett, Unionville, Oxford, and Avon Grove school districts, there were almost 500 children impacted by homelessness.”
There were no shelters in the area to help those families. But Olson explained that Freeman worked with others to develop a task force that led to the development of Family Promise of Southern Chester County, which will use an established model of working with area churches to provide shelter to families who need it. Family Promise will also help these individuals headed on a path to self-sufficiency.
These extra services and initiatives illustrate how UWSCC officials are continually looking to meet the needs of the community. The UWSCC has long been a leading supporter of non-profits in the area. For the 2015-2016 year, the United Way will be distributing $900,000 to 28 different programs in southern Chester County. Of that total, $434,280 of the allocations will be used for crisis intervention programs, such as the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County or the Oxford Neighborhood Services Center. Another $252,640 will be allocated for programs like the Adult Literacy Program at Kennett Public Library that help people transition to independence through education. And $213,080 is being distributed for programs that promote stability and sustainability, like the Tick Tock Early Learning Center or La Comunidad Hispana.
Listening to all the services that the non-profits in the area provide to local residents is a good way to learn about the level of needs that exist in the community.
“When I started on the board, I was not aware of the poverty issue in the area,” Olson explained. She noted that some parts of the county have 20 percent of the population living below the poverty level.
Freeman explained that UWSCC has a unique way of determining how the money raised each year is distributed to the local agencies that are seeking funding. A group of panelists comprised of residents or businesspeople with connections to southern Chester County attend presentations by officials from the agencies, and they use that information to determine the level of support that the United Way can provide.
Although the southern Chester County area is comparatively affluent, there are still many families who struggle to meet their basic needs. Staffers with organizations like the Kennett Area Community Service and Oxford Neighborhood Services Center work year-round to try to help residents in need. Listening to the stories that these non-profit officials shared made a lasting impression with the panelists.
Chadds Ford resident Alyson Clements serves as an allocations panelist for UWSCC after moving to the area from Atlanta, where she was also involved with the United Way.
“Chester County as a whole is promoted as a wonderful place to live and it certainly is,” Clements said. “But no matter what community you move to, there are going to be great needs.
While some of the needs might be obvious, other issues might not receive much attention.
“What surprised me,” said Clements, “is that some of the agencies were talking about human-trafficking being a problem in this area. I did not expect that.”
Clements said that it was difficult to make decisions about funding levels for the non-profits because they are all doing things that help people in the community.
“Every single one of them is advocating for a cause that tugs on your heartstrings,” Clements said, adding that she was very impressed with the allocation process that the UWSCC has set up.
“The way that the United Way of Southern Chester County is run is first-rate,” Clements said. “It is very professionally run. Carrie is passionate and organized.”
Olson said that serving on the board of directors for the United Way for the last six years has been a great learning experience for her.
“It has been an incredibly fulfilling experience for me,” she said. “I have learned everything from how to stuff an envelope most efficiently to how to run a $1.25 million campaign. My advice to the new board is to continue to be involved and active, as it is critical to the aforementioned value add of United Way. Try to leave a United Way legacy. Be a Jeff Yetter and come up with the idea for the Chocolate Lovers Festival or a Catherine Britt or Sharon Parker, who [developed the idea] behind our wonderful community pasta dinner.”
Olson also talked about how the needs in the area continue to grow, but the United Way’s ability to expand the annual campaign is dwindling.
“We are starting to see a downturn in some corporate donations,” Olson explained. “We continue to gain some big donors. We are also making up [some shortfalls] with mail campaigns. The composition of our donors is changing.”
Many people who reside in southern Chester County work in Delaware or Maryland, so one of the ongoing efforts of the UWSCC is to encourage people to give where they live.
“We do rely on people working out of the area to send money home,” said Freeman. “One of our strategies is to reach out to the local residents through the mail.”
Freeman talked about some of the inherent efficiencies of contributing to the United Way of Southern Chester County.
“It’s very easy to be committed to a single charity, but it’s the concept that one gift to the United Way of Southern Chester County, one gift to the large community pot, helps a lot of different organizations because there is a major cumulative gift that they can count on and really do something with. Together, our gifts can sustain many non-profits.”
Anyone who would like to contribute to the campaign can send the donation to the UWSCC, 106 West State St. Kennett Square, Pa. 19348 or make the donation online at www.unitedwayscc.org.