Dan Hust | Democrat
THE UNITED WAY building at 33 Lakewood Avenue in Monticello also houses the State Employees Federated Appeal, Teen Link to Community, Action Toward Independence and Wardrobes for Work.
United Way: more than you ever imagined
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO United Way of Sullivan County Chief Professional Officer Kaytee Warren admits it:
Some people don’t have any idea what the United Way does.
Yet its impacts can be felt in every corner of the county.
“We have a broad reach,” Warren affirmed, crediting a supportive board and staff.
So what do they do?
Their mission, delineated at www.unitedwayofsullivancounty .org, is “to mobilize the caring power of the community through participation in fundraising, volunteerism, advocacy, education and partnerships for the purpose of improving lives and building a strong and vital Sullivan County.”
Put simply, “the United Way raises money and uses that money to assist other organizations that benefit our community,” Warren explained.
First, let it be understood: “we get no funding from the state and national United Ways,” she said. “We depend on the generosity of the community.”
That’s why United Way of Sullivan County is an independent non-profit, not a chapter of a larger organization.
Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and NYS Senator John Bonacic include the United Way in member items, while other funding for the organization is accomplished through an annual campaign and special events.
One dedicated volunteer grant writer ensures that United Way receives 2-3 grants every year, but the annual local fundraising campaign and special events are the chief means to accomplishing the United Way’s mission, with all funds staying in Sullivan County.
The popular Bob Rosen Memorial Golf Tournament (scheduled this year for August 22) pulls in much-needed funding, as does another fundraiser: a rafting trip down the Delaware River, set for August 3.
So where does all this money go?
United Way keeps administrative costs low, operating with a small staff and a host of volunteers. The century-old Synfleur Fragrance Factory building, on Lakewood Avenue in Monticello, is home to United Way and four other not-for-profit agencies.
Through a budget and allocation process, United Way uses some of the money it raises to assist its agencies, which include Action Toward Independence, the Red Cross, the 4-H program at Cornell Cooperative Extension, Family Court Children’s Center, Friends and Advocates for Mental Health, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Literacy Volunteers of America, Sullivan County Cares Coalition, Office for the Aging and the Sullivan County Child Care Council. Remaining funds are used to support other projects that impact the community.
In several instances, United Way serves as an administrator for programs that benefit the community. One such program is the federally funded Emergency Food and Shelter National Board Program. United Way works with a local board to secure and distribute funding to local churches, synagogues and non-profit agencies. The one-time FEMA funding is used to target special emergency needs for food, shelter and utilities and can make a big difference to someone experiencing an economic crisis.
The organization also serves as the fiscal agent for the Coordinated Children’s Services Initiative, which aims to reduce unnecessary residential placements of children with serious emotional or behavioral problems.
United Way also manages a separate campaign for the State Employees Federated Appeal (SEFA). The SEFA campaign offers state workers an opportunity to donate to a large array of participating charitable organizations through payroll deductions. Warren administers the SEFA Campaign for Sullivan and Ulster counties.
And there’s the National Association of Letter Carriers Food Drive, where the carriers, the U.S. Postal Service, Campbell Soup and the United Way partner to collect food from residents to stock area food pantries. In the past three years, the drive has provided 38,158 pounds of food for distribution to those in need.
At United Way, men, women and children have ongoing access to a closet and donation room full of clothing and furnishings for those who have suffered through a crisis such as fire or flood, but more often to those who cannot afford to purchase everyday items they need. Nearly 1,000 people have received clothing, household goods and furnishings from United Way of Sullivan County in the last 18 months.
Early each fall, United Way staff and volunteers start making preparations for Project Care to assure that families and children are not overlooked during the holiday season. Last year, with help from students and faculty in the Monticello School District, the organization distributed 174 food baskets to families that otherwise would not have had Thanksgiving dinner.
Project Care’s Dreidels and Snowmen project also enabled more than 2,000 children to receive holiday gifts in December, while the Adopt-a-Family program provided 10 families with holiday meals, gifts and toys.
United Way of Sullivan County, like many United Ways nationwide, has been redirecting much of its focus and funding toward Community Impact Projects that will produce permanent, measurable changes in the community.
“We’re trying to identify problems in the community and find ways to address them in a manner that will produce lasting changes,” Warren explained, noting that the focus of Community Impact is health, education and financial stability. “If a community has those three things, they’re in good shape.”
One of the best-known offerings is 2-1-1, the information and referral service for the plethora of health and social needs people face every day. And save for emergencies (where it’s always best to dial 911), 2-1-1 can quickly and easily navigate people through a complex system of services to find just what they need and in 150 languages, to boot.
While the Hudson Valley Region 2-1-1 Call Center is not located in Sullivan County, it serves the county, and it’s the local United Way’s job to keep this area’s information up to date. United Way of Sullivan County is also obligated to fund a portion of the cost for maintaining the call center, so it can continue to provide optimal service 24/7. No less than 63,000 people have been served by the regional 2-1-1 call center since its inception in late 2005.
To help those re-entering the workforce or trying to maintain employment, United Way offers Wardrobes for Work, featuring roomfuls of free business-class clothing for men and women who otherwise couldn’t afford proper work attire. Wardrobes for Work assists people who are referred by county work programs and is also open one day a week for anyone needing clothing for work.
In 2007, United Way began to host gang awareness seminars to enable local professionals to obtain firsthand advice from national experts on gang activity and prevention.
“The seminars were initiated in direct response to the growing gang problem in the county, which brings with it increased crime, drugs and violence. The third seminar, held on May 29, had nearly 250 people at the college,” said Warren. “I think the seminars have opened a lot of people’s eyes and given them the tools to recognize and address gang activity. I’m pleased we were able to bring so many community partners together to offer the seminars.”
Taken as a whole, this array of services is immense. That’s why Warren, the paid staff of Julian Dawson (administrative assistant) and Donna Terpening (bookkeeper), the volunteers and the United Way’s 18-member board work hard to ensure these monies are well-spent where needed, depending upon not just statistics but utilizing the expertise of a needs assessment committee and a budget & allocation committee that determine how much should be spent where.
The board which oversees this is currently chaired by Woodbourne resident Rosemary Skoda and includes a host of familiar local names: Pat Allison (1st Vice Chair), Harold Johnson (2nd Vice Chair), Lynn McDonald (treasurer), Eileen Ernst (assistant treasurer), Judith Hellman (secretary), Linda Berkowicz, Marcia Braunstein, Ilyce Brinn, Laura Fredericks, Margaret Hazen, Camille Johnston, Rachelle Klugman, Diane Levine, Valerie Litt, Walt Ramsay, Nathana Rosen, Don Simkin and Shari Trust.
Yet even with such a lineup of local talent, it’s still a struggle to fund so many beneficial programs and keep enough in reserve for the unexpected.
This year, for example, 2-1-1’s state funding was cut by 92 percent, leaving United Ways with the burden of making up the difference. Another major expense for United Way of Sullivan County this year was the costly replacement of the roof on the 104 year-old building.
A Thirty-One Chances to Win Raffle is now underway to help offset the expense of the roof. Each ticket gives the purchaser an opportunity to win a cash prize every day during the month of August.
“It’s very difficult to support a not-for-profit like United Way in an area with few major corporate employers and a struggling economy,” acknowledged Warren.
But facing challenges is what the United Way is all about.
“So many people have come to count on United Way for help,” she said. “I think everyone will be feeling the effects of the recession and the rising oil prices in the coming year. For those who are already experiencing financial hardships, the year ahead may prove to be very difficult.”
So how can you help?
“The presence and fiscal health of United Way is important to all the residents who look to us to provide a critical lifeline during tough times,” she concluded. “We’re counting on the community to see us through.”
To assist the United Way or make inquiries, calls are welcomed at 794-1771, or email them at unitedwaysullivan@verizon .net.
One of the best ways to find out what is needed or available is to log on to www.unitedwayofsullivancounty.org, or visit the United Way’s office located at 33 Lakewood Avenue in Monticello (easily accessed off Broadway).