On the heels of the local United Way campaign completion, it was announced that Luke Mill would close its operations leaving 675 individuals without jobs. Over the course of the next few days it was reported that for every single job lost, there would be an additional three also affected. These numbers are crippling. Will these labor-skilled employees find new work in our community? Some will. What about those who don’t?
I have been with County United Way for over four years and have watched the annual campaign in each county slowly decline. Just this year our Allegany County campaign lost over $20,000. The closing of the Luke Mill brought a loss of over $11,000 in Allegany County and over $12,000 in Mineral County. You see, the employees graciously gave a small portion of each paycheck to the campaign. It wasn’t an amount that would be missed from day to day, but the one or two dollars per pay that they collectively gave made a big difference in the communities we serve…in the communities where we all live.
I don’t believe it’s a far stretch to assume very few understand United Way. Of course, we provide information when we make presentations at local businesses and we, a staff of three and a half, do what we can on social media. We’ve been working tirelessly to do a better job of talking about what we do. But as the old saying goes – you can lead a horse to water… County United Way – the local chapter which operates out of Cumberland, MD and serves Allegany, Garrett, Hampshire and Mineral Counties individually (a different setup than most chapters) – is over 60 years old. It has served these communities for decades. We are fortunate to have a handful of volunteers who have been with us for most of those decades. Those volunteers, along with many others, have gone on a journey with us over the past 18 months as we have worked to transform ourselves into a more modern, responsive organization. This is not your grandfather’s United Way.
United Way has always adapted to change. In a climate where more and more working families are struggling to keep their heads above water, United Way is the organization in your community equipped to respond to those needs. The dollars we raise and grant to nonprofits have flexibility other dollars simply do not. What that means for someone in need is that when they seek help from United Way programs, there is no question of income. If someone in our community needs help, we help them. We will always provide dollars to assist low-income children and families – this is at the heart of what we do. Where we have made a transformation is asking our partner organizations to consider that “at-risk” and hard times has no income limits. Each and every day, many of us are facing that one life event which could put us at risk of losing everything we have. For every person, that one life event is something different and “everything lost” is defined in many different ways.
We have had to do more with fewer dollars. New generations no longer write a check and feel confident that their money will be used as they hope. Organizations must let donors follow their dollars from deposit to awarded grants to implementation and impact, which is not unreasonable. We cannot continue to ask our longtime donors to bear the weight of supporting our organization and it is necessary to seek new donors who will see the value and true impact we make.
Without United Way, these working families will be even more limited. Programs will decline to a point in which only small numbers of individuals can be served, leaving thousands with no resources. Who are these individuals? Your grandmother who has to choose between food and life-saving medications. Your niece or nephew who go to after-school and summer programs, giving them a safe place when otherwise they would be left alone during vulnerable times. Your coworker who struggles to keep the heat on for herself and children during our chilling winters. Someone who attends your church and uses our resources while she raises her grandchildren. Your father, brother, cousin, neighbor, friend.
This is not a plea for donations. Rather, this is an invitation to our community to learn what we do and why. We will continue to work hard to prove our worth and value and showcase the tremendous impact we have during events and outreach. County United Way does not rely on government grants or resources – it is only through local dollars from individuals, employees through payroll deduction and through businesses who see a value in what we do.
To the Luke employees who have supported us, thank you. Thank you for seeing the value in our work. We want you to know your dollars made a difference in our region for so many. More importantly, it is our hope that the programs you have helped support will be there to support you when the need arises.
For more information, visit cuw.org or dial 2-1-1 for program and service needs.
Executive Director, County United Way