Volunteers are the Lifeblood of United Way

October 25, 2008  //  United Way

Contributions to the 2007-’08 campaign:

  • Helped 7,700 children in programs designed to ensure they achieve literacy;
  • Helped 2,000 adults with parenting skills to ensure their children get the guidance they need to succeed;
  • Allowed more than 20,000 adults and 16,000 children to receive food assistance; and
  • Enabled 8,700 individuals to get emergency assistance to help them move into permanent housing.

A total of 90 dedicated volunteers do yeoman’s work in thoroughly researching programs provided by agencies seeking United Way funds. They’re assigned to teams and go to work reviewing applications and measuring outcomes to determine if needs are being met.

“Even though we were fortunate to exceed goal for the most recent campaign, the funds needed to cover the programs we support cannot be stretched to cover the needs in the community,” said Jennifer Brinkman, chairman of the seven team leaders.

Volunteers do not take their responsibilities lightly.

Prior to gathering for two four-hour meetings at which agencies are selected, volunteers examine materials in order to familiarize themselves with the agencies and the programs they offer.

“There has been a sense of more people wanting to know how the fund distribution works,” said Brinkman.

“Prior to the applications being reviewed in the spring, we ask agencies for extensive information, in order for our volunteers to make the most informed decisions possible.”

Brian Beck, who became involved in United Way volunteering a half-dozen years ago through his work at Pfizer, is team leader for the shelter fund allocation committee, which was faced with more than $500,000 in requests and had just $156,000 to allocate.

“Given the state of the economy, our task has become more challenging,” said Beck.

“We do the best we can to try to funnel our dollars to programs that provide the greatest impact.”

The weakened economy has heightened the importance of the role of the United Way volunteers, Beck added.

“The number of working poor in our community is increasing at an alarming rate,” he added. “It can just as easily be your next-door neighbor as it is the family across town.”

Robin Mahoney, senior director of fund distribution/community planning for the United Way of Lincoln and Lancaster County, said agency requests last year totaled $1.3 million more than the campaign generated – despite the campaign exceeding goal.

The coming year’s challenge for United Way volunteers will contain a new twist: site visits, between December and April, to United Way-funded agencies, to measure the outcomes of programs funded by campaign dollars.

Last year, the local United Way chose to go with a revamped method of distributing funds by creating a two-year funding cycle. Through the plan, agencies funded by the 2007-’08 campaign can also count on funding through the 2008-’09 campaign, whose figure stood at 51% of a $6 million goal on Oct. 15.

Mahoney said the local United Way staff is grateful to United Way’s 90 volunteers and to the companies that allow employees to work on United Way projects on company time.

“This reflects a generous community,” said Mahoney.

United Way is always looking for good volunteers, added Mahoney, who can be reached at 441-6070 for more information. Volunteers serve two three-year terms.