United Way: Community effort meets community needs

Amanda Crysler
Amanda Crysler

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The United Way began in Colorado in 1887 as an effort to marshal community resources to meet community needs.

The concept endures 125 years later in Mesa County in an organization that solicits and combines the contributions of individuals, businesses and organizations to help support health and human services programs.

Workplace campaigns that encourage employee participation remain one of the most important components of the process.

“That’s really where we focus our efforts,” said Amanda Crysler, development director for United Way of Mesa County.

To commemorate the 125th anniversary of United Way, the Mesa County organization has established a goal of $1.25 million for its latest fund-raising campaign.

The group is well on its way with $457,325 already pledged through workplace campaigns. Pledges from 35 so-called Pacesetter companies and organizations constitute nearly 37 percent of the campaign goal.

Crysler expects that more than 80 percent of total contributions ultimately will be raised through workplace campaigns.

It’s part of the United Way approach to create a community of philanthropists that includes not just wealthy donors, but also those who can afford to give only a dollar or two out of their paychecks, she said. “Philanthropists come in all shapes and sizes.”

Every contribution makes a difference, Crysler said.

A pledge of $20 a month for a year, for example, will pay for hot meals for 208 people or legal services for three victims of domestic violence, she said.

Even a $1 contribution from every paycheck over the course of a year will pay for 25 meals at the soup kitchen or five boxes of emergency food, she added. “Just giving a dollar a paycheck is going to impact multiple peoples’ lives.”

Workplace campaigns are as different as the workplaces in which they’re conducted, Crysler said. Campaigns have involved as few as three people and as many as 2,700. Some campaigns constitute nothing more than a short meeting. More elaborate campaigns include special events and also involve team-building activities. At some companies, employees donate additional money to United Way to join in a pizza party or wear jeans on a Friday, she said.

Employees of the Grand Junction Parks and Recreation Department recently staged a race that not only promoted fitness, but also generated money and exposure for United Way, Crysler said. “They kind of hit the ball out of the park with that one.”

Many employees contribute to United Way through payroll deductions. But other options are available, including automatic debits from bank accounts. Individual donations using cash, checks and credit cards also are accepted, Crysler said.

Giving is a personal decision, and employees are never coerced to contribute, she said. “It’s not so much pressuring employees, but offering them that opportunity.”

Donors can feel secure in giving to United Way of Mesa County because every penny remains in the county, Crysler said.

All funding decisions are made locally following thorough reviews of the nonprofit organizations applying for grants. In fact, United Way funding constitutes something of a “seal of approval” nonprofits use to leverage funding from other sources, she added.

United Way currently provides funding to a total of 54 programs offered by 33 different organizations that promote health, build strong families and increase self-sufficiency. Those programs affect more than 50,000 people in Mesa County.

Since the first United Way campaign in Mesa County 53 years ago collected $84,000, more than $24 million has been raised to help support health and human services programs.

United Way grants helped establish such institutions as the Marillac Clinic and Homeward Bound and in turn medical and dental care for low-income and uninsured patients and emergency shelter for the homeless.

While the latest campaign goal was set at $1.25 million in part to coincide with the 125th anniversary of United Way, the objective also constitutes an increase over the average of $1.1 million that’s been raised in each of the last four years, Crysler said.

But by continuing to marshall community resources, she said she’s confident the money will be raised to meet community needs. That’s the United Way.

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