While on a recent phone call with a large national company, the young man with whom I was speaking asked me what the United Way was. Not until I mentioned the National Football League commercials that the name even rang a bell for him.
I was stunned.
United Way has been such an important part of my entire adult life: first as a donor, then as an employee of a United Way funded agency, and currently as the president of United Way of Morgan County. I assumed everyone knew – at least in general -- what United Way does in our area and around the country.
Let me give you my ideas of what United Way is and does. In short, United Way is a facilitator of charitable giving. It allows people to support 28 local agencies, confident that their donations are being invested wisely. In Morgan County, each agency requesting funds submits an application and financial information that is extensively reviewed by a team of community volunteers. That team visits the agency, and in meeting with staff and board members, provides answers to the three questions I posed to them:
a. Is the service provided vital to the community?
b. Is the service being provided efficiently?
c. Has the service proven to be effective in addressing a community problem?
The team leaders then meet to make their recommendation to the United Way Board of Directors on how best to distribute the available funds.
United Way is local. More than 98 cents out of every dollar raised in Morgan County stays in north Alabama, supporting local agencies, people and businesses in our back yard. While we will pay nearly $20,000 annually in dues to United Way Worldwide for use of the trademarked name and for training, the NFL commercials, etc., Morgan County will receive nearly $53,000 through United Way’s participation in the federal Emergency Food and Shelter Program. That means more than double the money paid in dues is returned to the community. If you’re a business, that’s a great return on investment.
Most importantly, United Way changes AND saves lives. For example, right here in Decatur, the Child Advocacy Center works with child victims of abuse so heinous that most of us don’t want to even think those things could happen in the community where we live and work. But thanks to this United Way funded agency, those children get the help they need to not only survive their trauma, but to grow into healthy, happy, and productive adults.
Also, nearly five hundred home-bound individuals will receive nutritious meals five days a week thanks to Meals on Wheels -- another United Way funded agency. Nearly as important as the food provided is the human contact of the delivery volunteers, which may be the only such contact many of these people receive all week.
Boys and Girls Clubs provide a safe place for young people to socialize, have fun, and get help with their school work, all under the watchful eyes of adults who serve as coaches and mentors. This United Way agency served more than 168,000 snacks and meals to club members who without them, may well have gone hungry; and members excelled in school with 93% making the A/B honor roll and a 97% graduation rate. These are real, tangible results.
And there are twenty-seven more United Way programs changing and saving lives throughout Morgan County.
I am honored and blessed to be working with Sherry, Tracy, and a wonderful team of volunteers at United Way of Morgan County. There is no other non-profit organization that has a greater impact on this community and I am grateful to be a part of that.