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Rebuilding United Way’s community campaign

In 1887, a Denver woman, a priest, two ministers and a rabbi recognized the need for cooperative action to address their city’s welfare problems. Frances Wisehart Jacobs, the Rev. Myron W. Reed, Dean H. Martyn Hart, Msgr. William J. O’Ryan and Rabbi William S. Friedman put their heads together to plan the first united campaign for 10 health and welfare agencies.

They created an organization to serve as an agent to collect funds for local charities, to coordinate relief services, counsel and refer clients to cooperating agencies, and make emergency assistance grants in cases which could not be referred. That year, Denver raised $21,700 and created a movement that would spread throughout the country to become the modern United Way. Now, 125 years later, United Way is still focused on mobilizing the caring power of communities and making a difference in people’s lives.

Fast forward 50 years to 1937 and find that a group of caring citizens in Bremerton created the first cooperative action here for the purpose of addressing the needs of their city. That organization was called the Bremerton Community Fund. That year they raised $12,630.63.

During the war years the fund was referred to as the Community War Chest. In 1947 the Bremerton Community Fund became the Kitsap County Community Chest. By 1948 more than 1,000 communities nationwide had established Community Chest (United Way) organizations. In 1954, Kitsap County Community Chest became known as United Good Neighbors and established the first unified federated campaign for Kitsap County.

By 1967 United Way campaigns across the country raised more than $700 million dollars despite work shortages (similar to today) and civil unrest. United Way helped 27.5 million families; 31,300 agencies were members; 8.5 million people were volunteering; and 32.8 million people made donations.

In 1970 the United Way name was formally adopted and the vast majority of Community Chests and United Good Neighbors all became known as United Way. In 1977 United Way fundraising growth across the country exceeded $100 million for the first time. In 1981 the United Way organizations across the country raised $1.68 million.

In 2007 United Ways raised over $4 billion and became the nation’s largest charitable organization. Here in Kitsap County, United Way had its largest campaign, raising $1.86 million, and then the great recession hit.

This year, 2012, United Way of America — now United Way Worldwide — is 125 years old and United Way of Kitsap County celebrates 75 years of service.

Since the recession began, United Way of Kitsap County has slipped behind that 2007 high-dollar mark due to work shortages and tough economic times. The recession may have ended in 2009 but it doesn’t feel like it. We must begin rebuilding the community campaign in order to increase our ability to help those who have suffered and are stilling suffering so very much through these past four years.

If United Way is to have impact in our community it is up to us, you, me and our neighbors to provide the means. Government is not the answer; we as a collective hold the solution. We must and we need to depend upon our ability to help each other as Denver did in 1887 and Bremerton did in 1937; as you might expect me to say, the best way to do that is through United Way’s consolidated annual campaign.

I hold out hope that the community will answer the call. And should we be fortunate enough to once again in 2012-13 reach that $1.8 million high mark, I will sit in the middle of the intersection of Fourth and Pacific in downtown Bremerton and have my head shaved until it shines in celebration of a victorious campaign that will surely have great impact in our community. Will you help?

David L. Foote is executive director of United Way of Kitsap County.

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