United Way of Washington County

Every once in a while, someone comes up with an idea that changes that way the world thinks. That’s exactly how the United Way came into being. That organization has positively impacted Washington County over the past 90 years and continues to improve lives through caring.

The United Way of Washington County was founded in 1925 as the Community Chest of Washington with the purpose of raising money on behalf of all local charities with one drive, once a year. This helped to consolidate the campaign fundraising drives of numerous charitable organizations into one. That year, the board raised $40,000, which benefited seven local groups.

By 1943, payroll deductions were offered to help make giving more convenient. In 1965, Washington volunteers joined forces with those in Canonsburg and McMurray to form the Central Washington United Fund. In 1974, the name changed to United Way of Central Washington County, and the “central” was dropped in 1986.

The roots of the United Way organization date back to 1887 in Denver, Colo., when volunteers decided to work together in new ways to help the community become a better place. They created what would become the nation’s first united campaign benefiting area health and welfare agencies. They created an organization to collect funds for local charities and to coordinate relief service. Today, the United Way is a global organization engaged in nearly 1,800 communities across more than 40 countries and territories that impacts up to 50 million lives worldwide every year.

The newly appointed United Way of Washington County executive director P. Ann Hrabik has a background in fundraising and said this organization is uniquely different. “The United Way of Washington County raises money through the annual workplace campaigns as well as directly from individual donors,” Hrabik said. “But then we distribute the money right back in Washington County to those agencies who help those in need.”

The name of our local organization has changed and evolved since 1925, but the United Way of Washington County’s mission remains the same: to improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities. Each year, United Way donations fund services that help real people with real needs. In 2018, the United Way of Washington County helped to fund more than two dozen local programs, ranging from the City Mission to Southwestern PA Legal Services, the Red Cross, ARC Human Services, Domestic Violence Services of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Connect, Inc. Family Shelter, Catholic Charities, Dress for Success, Head Start programs and the LeMoyne Community Center. Programs funded through the United Way of Washington County offer services relating to hunger relief, job training, literacy initiatives, homeless intervention and other areas of need in the community.

How do they choose which agencies receive funding each year? Every local charity and non-profit agency that applies is thoroughly reviewed before any funding agreement is signed. The criteria is based on three focus areas: education, income stability and health.

“Local nonprofits submit applications for our community impact grants and it has to fall into one of those categories,” Hrabik explained. “It’s helping people and it goes back to what our mission is and that is to improve lives. These are considered the foundation for a successful life. If one of those three falls away, a person’s chances at an independent future are greatly reduced.”

The most recent financial audit of the agency is reviewed by the board to be sure the agency is solid financially. Hrabik stressed that the organization doesn’t just read an application and write a check. “It’s really a unique way because all of these agencies will submit applications,” she said. “A group of volunteers from the county get together, review the applications and then narrow it down and visit these agencies. They then determine who will receive funding. It’s not just somebody saying we’re going to give money ... we’re there in the community learning more about the need.”

The United Way of Washington County identifies what those critical community needs are then reviews, funds and monitors the agencies that provide local programs and services that address those needs. Agencies are required to submit quarterly reports on how they spend funding. In 2018, United Way of Washington County funded $267,481 to 28 local programs and services with Community Impact Grants, designated $251,305 to donors’ specific charities in Washington County and $146,856 to other donors’ charities.

Most of us are familiar with the United Way through their annual workplace giving campaign which allows you to give a portion of each of your paychecks to the United Way. That’s the United Way of Washington County’s largest fundraising vehicle, but they also hold an annual golf outing. The 2019 golf outing will be held on Aug. 2 at Lone Pine Country Club. It’s a chance to enjoy a day on the golf course with friends while giving back to the community.

You might also be familiar with the United Way’s theme, “LIVE UNITED.” It’s a call to action to give, advocate and volunteer. Why is it so important to do that and to support the United Way of Washington County? It’s a way to help promote an independent, educated, healthy and financially stable community. “When you learn about all these different projects,” Hrabik said, “all the different programs to provide educational opportunities, help people with financial literacy and improve their health, it’s just such a good feeling to be part of that.”

One of those programs is the United Way’s 2-1-1 Southwest, which debuted in Washington County back in 2012. The phone service helps to provide callers with free information and referral assistance through agencies across 11 counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania. “If someone calls and says, ‘You know what, I can’t pay my gas bill this month. They said they’re going to turn off my gas. What do I do?’ They connect them with these different agencies that could help,” Hrabik said, noting that that’s just one example of how the United Way of Washington County is helping individuals and families achieve their human potential. “Education, income stability and a healthy life – once those boxes are checked, somebody can be self-sufficient. You have to have those building blocks.”

United Way of Washington County is located at 590 Washington Road, Suite 200. To learn more about local programs that are being funded by the United Way of Washington County and how you can be a part of this effort or for more information on the annual golf outing, please call 724-225-3310 or visit www.unitedwaywashco.org.

Columnist

Kristin Emery is a meteorologist at KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, an O-R columnist, and writer for Total Health magazine and other publications. Kristin is a Washington native and a graduate of Washington High School and West Virginia University.