By: Joel Koeppel
The basic concept behind United Way originated in Denver in 1887, when two ministers and a rabbi formed a plan to mitigate the city’s health and welfare issues through cooperative action. Together, they outlined a proposal for 10 new agencies and formed a headquarters for raising funds and organizing various relief initiatives. Within a year, the organization raised $21,700, and word of success spread around the country, planting the seeds for an integrated United Way organization. Over the subsequent six decades, more than 1,000 communities around the country established their own United Way chapters.
In 2008, United Way adopted a 10-year program to improve education, economic standing, and health. Through a variety of programs, United Way hopes to cut the number of high school dropouts in half each year, connect financially unstable families with dependable sources of income, and discourage risky behaviors among teenagers and adults. In the area of education, United Way understands that they must target not just high school students, but also young children. At present, the organization focuses on preparing young children for kindergarten and helping them achieve reading proficiency by the fourth grade, equipping them for successful transitions to middle school and high school. In order to benefit low-income families, United Way provides budget-planning assistance, encourages the construction of affordable housing, and places workers in positions that pay enough to support a family. In addition to its health awareness efforts, United Way campaigns to extend healthcare coverage to as many individuals as possible.
Beyond its 10-year program, United Way provides disaster relief after major crises. For example, five years after Hurricane Katrina, United Way continues to support rebuilding efforts in New Orleans, providing temporary housing, materials, and knowledgeable assistance. United Way also organized the 2-1-1 program, currently available in most American communities. By calling 2-1-1, individuals may obtain information about local services, volunteer opportunities, and obtaining permits or loans. In short, 2-1-1 operators help individuals navigate the complicated web of resources currently available in their communities.