Without the United Way . . . ‘What Would Our Communities Look Like?’ - The Missourian: Feature Stories

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Without the United Way . . . ‘What Would Our Communities Look Like?’

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Posted: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 6:32 pm

One in three. That’s the number of people in this area who are touched by the Franklin County Area United Way.

That includes all of the children who participate in local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, as well as 4-H clubs, FFA, the YMCA, Camp Washington and the Buddies Not Bullies program.

The dues their families pay to participate each year are lower because of the donations the clubs receive from the Franklin County Area United Way, said Stephen Trentmann, vice president of the Franklin County Area United Way and this year’s campaign co-chair.

That includes all of the children who participate in the free summer reading programs offered at the local libraries.

It also includes all of the seniors who attend the seven area senior centers for lunch and activities. The cost of their lunch is kept low, in part because of the donations from the United Way.

And that’s only the beginning, said Kim Strubberg, executive director of the Franklin County Area United Way. Those few organizations are among the 48 supported by the Franklin County Area United Way, which this year is celebrating its 60th anniversary.

Right now the United Way is more than halfway through its campaign, which officially ends Oct. 31. This year’s goal was set at $1,000,060 — the $60 being in honor of its anniversary.

To celebrate that milestone, the campaign is asking everyone either to increase their annual donation by $60 or to increase it as much as they can afford.

“The best way for us to raise funds is through employee payroll deductions,” said Trentmann.

“So if you’ve never given before, consider giving $2.50 a pay period if you get paid every two weeks. That’s $60 a year. We really just want people to realize that amount, spread across the number of employed people, is what it would take for us to help support the agencies’ requests.

“A lot of people think we’re only looking for big dollar donations, when we’re really not,” said Trentmann.

A lot of people also think that the United Way is only about providing emergency assistance to people in need, but that’s not a true picture, said David Strubberg, president and campaign co-chair.

The United Way is about building better communities, and that’s what it does by supporting a wide variety of agencies — groups that teach children how to grow up to be leaders, organizations that help people with disabilities find employment and contribute to their community and programs that deliver meals to homebound people and check on their well-being at the same time.

Focus Groups Wrapping Up

A community survey conducted on behalf of the Franklin County Area United Way last year identified the biggest issues facing the community and found mental health needs and substance abuse topped the list. Other areas of major concern, in order of rank, were housing, employment, transportation and safety.

Since March, focus groups made up of a cross-section of county residents — business professionals, retired folks, educators, manufacturing managers, people who work in human resources, clergy and more — have been meeting monthly at Mercy Hospital Washington and Mercy South to discuss these issues, trying to hash out solutions.

“They have been very enlightening, in that we have found all five of the areas overlap,” said Kim Strubberg, explaining every group doesn’t just talk about its assigned focus. In the employment group, they also talk about transportation and housing . . .

“Housing has been the one that has been the most widespread,” she said. “It means so much to so many people — does it mean affordable housing, work force housing, homelessness . . . which that goes back to safety, and that gets into substance abuse.”

Which is why these issues are so difficult to solve, said David Strubberg.

“You can just fix one thing, and fix it all,” he remarked.

“If there was a fixable group, it would be transportation, Kim Strubberg noted, because — if there was funding — you could add buses and other means of getting around.

But there’s no money to buy them, David Strubberg responded. And being in a rural area like Franklin County, the buses would not be able to transport large numbers of people on regular schedules with bus stops and places people knew they could go to get a ride.

“That’s the challenge because of the way everything is laid out,” he said. “If everybody was in one, little city, well, then you could do it.”

Still, the focus group discussions have revealed some critical information.

For example, the groups have found there are duplication of efforts in some areas, said Trentmann. There are programs available to help people with certain issues, but the programs have been poorly marketed so that people are unaware of them.

Now the concern is that because of a lack of participation, those programs may be cut.

“So how can we, with our joint services, the agencies that we support, reach out to those individuals who are utilizing the agencies and get them this information?” asked Trentmann.

Another good thing to come out of the focus group meetings is the connection made by the members themselves, who have found value in the monthly networking they provide.

Even though the focus group meetings are scheduled to end this month, every one of them wants to continue so they can keep the discussion open and moving forward, said Kim Strubberg.

Biggest Challenges, Biggest Assets

The biggest challenge facing the Franklin County Area United Way right now is getting into companies it hasn’t been in before to get its message across, said Trentmann.

“This is local dollars being raised for local needs, but we still get the stigma of all of our money going into St. Louis,” he said.

“There are some bigger companies that we struggle just to get in front of, and if we’re going to grow, that’s where it has to be,” David Strubberg commented.

“Every year in our campaign, we pinpoint some areas to focus on, but it’s a struggle.”

There are a variety of reasons why companies put up resistance, he said. It’s everything from not having enough time to hold a campaign to the fear of asking employees to make donations to the belief that the money is going somewhere else.

The United Way board understands all of those concerns, said Trentmann, but they also know that the best way to raise funds is through payroll deduction because people are able to give more since they are only contributing a little bit each paycheck.

They also believe it’s best to let employees decide for themselves if they want to give or not.

“We just want to tell you our story,” said Trentmann.

So if getting inside companies that have never hosted United Way campaigns before is the biggest challenge, the biggest advantages are the people, said Kim Strubberg — “the board, the generous residents, the office staff and the many volunteers who help with the special events, like door-to-door drive and Power of the Purse.”

Add to that the storied history of the Franklin County Area United Way, she said. It has a reputation of trust that keeps people supporting it year after year.

Community Chest Grows

The organization now known as the Franklin County Area United Way can trace its roots back to October 1953 when a number of small local fund-raisers united into one large group, a united charities organization.

A few months later in February 1954, the group took on the name Washington Community Chest and began its first campaign to raise $20,000 for eight local charities.

Three years later in 1957, the organization changed its name to the United Fund Inc. of Washington, a name it kept until 1998 when it became the Washington Area United Way.

Later the name was changed one more time — to the Franklin County Area United Way — to better reflect the people the organization supports.

Last year, the Franklin County Area United Way supported over 70,000 people in 35 communities, including:

Augusta, Beaufort, Berger, Bland, Bourbon, Catawissa, Cuba, Dutzow, Eureka, Gasconade, Gerald, Gray Summit, Grubville, Hermann, Labadie, Leasburg, Leslie, Lonedell, Luebbering, Marthasville, New Haven, Owensville, Pacific, Robertsville, Rosebud, St. Clair, Stanton, Steelville, Sullivan, Union, Villa Ridge, Warrenton and Washington.

Its 48 agencies provide abuse crisis intervention, children and youth services, developmental disability services, mental health services, legal services, emergency assistance, health services, senior services and more.

Looking Ahead

As the Franklin County area has grown over the years, so has the needs of the community and the Franklin County Area United Way goal.

But Trentmann and Strubberg said they look forward to a day when the annual campaign goal wouldn’t have to be raised each year, that it could hold steady because it was enough to meet the needs of the community.

“I would like to see the campaign get to a certain percentage of all corporations participating in Franklin County, and see the goal plateau, so we don’t have to increase it each year because that would mean we were meeting the needs of the community,” said Trentmann.

In the coming years, however, Kim Strubberg said she expects to see the funding needs of the various agencies changing to reflect the growth of certain populations, like the baby boomers.

‘Stronger, Safer Communities’

People who are familiar with the United Way know the tagline that it has used for many years — “Building Better Communities.” But Strubberg stressed that’s more than a tagline.

“It’s what we do,” she said. “It’s who we are. It’s our mission.”

People who are helped by the United Way don’t wear T-shirts identifying themselves, she commented.

“It could be someone you’re sitting at church with. It could be the person in line behind you at the store.

“Because of those (48) agencies, our communities are better places, and they’re stronger, safer communities with more opportunities for our kids.

“Where would it be if we didn’t have 4-H, Boy Scouts or Girls Scouts? What would those kids grow up to look like?”

“These are not just activities,” Trentmann added. “They are life lessons.”

“We’re preparing our kids to be good citizens,” Kim Strubberg remarked.

But there’s also another side to the United Way, said David Strubberg — filling that gap for families and people who find themselves in a serious pinch.

“If a company closes down and somebody loses a job through no fault of their own, they are trying to get back into the work force, but it isn’t like there’s a job waiting for everybody just because they got laid off,” he said. “So they’re going to need to fill this gap until they can get their feet back on the ground.”

“That’s where agencies like the food pantries and Loving Hearts Outreach come in. What would these people do if they didn’t have that gap?”

Kim Strubberg elaborated on that idea by referring to a woman featured in this year’s United Way video who accessed Grace’s Place and ALIVE — both United Way agencies.

“That wasn’t through any fault of hers that she was abused and put in a violent situation,” said Strubberg. “But what if we didn’t have those services? Where would the community be?”

David Strubberg asked people who may not think it’s important to support the United Way to step back and think about if those services weren’t there.

“How much more crime would you see because people would resort to other methods to get what they need to support their families?

“What would our communities look like?”

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