United Way of Southern Chester County celebrates 75 years and over $20 million given to local nonprofits12/08/2020 10:38AM ● By Steven Hoffman
A newly opened grocery store in Dublin, Ireland recently made headlines for its section of glass flooring, which allows shoppers to see the eleventh-century Irish-Viking home on which the present structure is built.
People tend not to give much thought to foundations—whether they’re made of brick and mortar or of the leaders, wise decisions, and radical generosity that build a strong community. Times of crisis and significant anniversaries, however, have a way of calling us to pause and take stock. As a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, United Way of Southern Chester County (UWSCC) is celebrating its 75th anniversary by doing exactly what it has always done—raising funds to help those in need in the community. Today, that means supporting local nonprofit agencies responding to ongoing needs in addition to the unprecedented and ever-shifting needs brought on by the pandemic.
Over the past few months, CEO Carrie Freeman has been digging into the UWSCC annals to find 75 facts about the organization’s history. She hasn’t been surprised to find lots of information about community leaders who made forward-looking decisions to lay a solid foundation for UWSCC. Their model of local support has been shaping the character and caring ethos of the community it has served for three-quarters of a century.
“Over the last 30 years alone,” Freeman said, “we have given out over $20 million to help those in need in our community. It’s hard to imagine what Southern Chester County would look like today had it not been for UWSCC.”
In addition to giving significant ongoing support to existing agencies like Tick Tock Early Learning Center and Kennett Area Senior Center, UWSCC has also provided critical initial support, or “seed money,” over the years to help start nonprofits to fill particular needs in the community. These include the Kennett Food Cupboard, then a satellite of KACS (1998); the Adult Literacy Program at the Kennett Library (1995); After-the-Bell (1999); and Family Promise of Southern Chester County (2015).
“When we see a need in the community that no one is meeting, we collaborate, facilitate conversations, make connections, and provide resources to help fill that gap,” Freeman said.
The Garage in West Grove is another such example. UWSCC encouraged the Garage in Kennett Square to expand their impactful teen program for Kennett students to the Avon Grove School District’s students. In 2009, with a plan to expand, the Garage needed someone to donate the $30,000 necessary to get the project off the ground. UWSCC was there with those funds. And in 1974, when a new community center on South Broad Street was “serving as the permanent headquarters for . . . a Spanish-speaking citizens organization,” UWSCC was there to fund that organization known today as La Comunidad Hispana (LCH). In the last 30 years, UWSCC has given LCH over two and a half million dollars in funding.
UWSCC’s roots can be traced back to an organizational meeting in Kennett Square’s American Legion Hall in August 1944—as the Allied forces were nearing the end of their march from Normandy to Paris. Nine days after the end of World War II, at a meeting held on September 11, 1945, various charitable organizations in the Kennett area joined forces to form a cooperative association called the Community Chest.
Seventy-five years later, after a few name changes and after incorporating several area organizations including the Avon Grove and Oxford United Ways, what began as the Community Chest is now UWSCC.
“Today, UWSCC funds crisis intervention, health, and education programs from Chadds Ford south to Nottingham,” Freeman explained. The core concept has always been that local businesses and citizens can best help neighbors in need by donating to a single organization that knows the community, its nonprofits, and its needs so well that it can allocate those funds most effectively where and when they’re needed.
The theme of the Community Chest’s first fundraising campaign, in 1945, was “The most you can give is the least you can do.” Although today’s theme is “Live Here, Give Here, Stays Here,” Freeman said the original tag line still resonates with the mission and goals of UWSCC to inspire community generosity to meet local needs. That first campaign raised $29,789.73 in pledges. In 2001, the traditional kick-off event for the annual campaign on September 11th was delayed. In the midst of the nation’s heartache and turmoil that year, UWSCC raised $1,000,000 for the first time—a “million-dollar millennium.” Today, UWSCC raises and gives away more than a million dollars annually.
Part of the secret of UWSCC’s resilience has been its ability to change and evolve with the community it serves. After a nationwide name change to “Community Chest Red Feather” in 1947, red feather thermometers could be seen in over a thousand town squares, tracking incoming donations with red paint. Over the years, workplace giving replaced door-to-door canvassing, and major direct-mail campaigns and UWSCC’s signature and perennially popular Kennett Chocolate Lovers Festival replaced road rallies and pasta dinner fundraisers.
The roster of hundreds of board and committee leaders over the years also reads like a who’s who of men and women who have had a huge impact on the community, from Genesis HealthCare founder Michael Walker to Monroe Nute, Leonard Kanofsky, Charlie Kramer, A. Duer Pierce, Larry Bosley, Leon Spencer, Jamie Blaine, Eva Verplanck, David Woods, Sharon Parker, and Judge Daniel Maisano. All of these hundreds of volunteers have served and shaped the strategy of UWSCC to respond to changing circumstances without losing sight of the organization’s fundamental vision.
While the citizens of Southern Chester County don’t have a glass floor through which to view the foundations of the UWSCC, neither does the organization have a glass ceiling. UWSCC was making strides towards shattering that glass ceiling even in 1952, when Mrs. Lyle T. Johnston was elected as the first woman president of the Community Chest. She was an electrical engineer and very involved in Girl Scouts, but her first name is unknown because married women in the 1950s were publicly known only by their married names.
In 1977, Freeman explained, “Women took control!” Sybil S. Curtin was elected board president and Luci M. Shoemaker became administrator (working for $5 an hour at a time when minimum wage was $2.30). At the national level, former Peace Corps director Elaine Chao became CEO in 1993 and helped to rebuild the national United Way after a period of scandal following the conviction of former United Way of America CEO William Aramony on charges of fraud. In 1997, Cecy Glenn was named executive director of what was then called United Way of the Kennett Area. She proved, Freeman said, “to be a fundraising marvel,” and Freeman stepped into her shoes to become the third CEO in UWSCC’s history when Glenn retired in 2003.
The history of UWSCC and its partner agencies is an integral part of the history of the community, and it tells a story of resilience, forward thinking, and sacrificial generosity. As they prepare for the uncertainties ahead in 2021, Freeman, her staff, and board build on this firm foundation. They’re focused on reaching their most ambitious fundraising goal yet in order to fully fund and support agencies as they continue to serve those most in need right here in our community.
Follow @unitedwayscc on Facebook or @uwscc on Instagram to read Freeman’s ongoing series of 75 facts and historic photos highlighting the role of UWSCC in our community. Go to https://www.unitedwayscc.org/give to donate. In honor of their 75th Anniversary, they are offering a raffle to win a year of free groceries and a $75,000 Board Challenge Match for new leadership donors. To learn more about these giving incentives, go to https://www.unitedwayscc.org/giving-incentives.