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United Way Celebrates 100 Years with Awareness Campaign

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — For much of its history, the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley was primarily a fundraising entity.

In 1919, 11 local businessmen came together to create what was then called the United Fund, said its president, Bob Hannon.

“They were being solicited by many organizations, so I think their feeling was, ‘let’s find one entity, fund that entity, and let that entity decide where the greatest need is in the community,’ ” he said.

Since then the United Way has raised more than $140 million to help create change in the Mahoning Valley.

Throughout 2019, the nonprofit plans to highlight those past accomplishments and show how it laid the foundation for its current and future work, as it celebrates 100 years since its incorporation. The celebration will kick off at United Way’s annual luncheon Feb. 11, the centennial anniversary of the incorporation date.

During the event, United Way will recognize several organizations that have been critical to its success over the years, including four $25,000 premier sponsors who are underwriting this year’s promotional efforts. They are: Greenwood Chevrolet, PNC Bank, Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC and the Muransky Companies.

“What we’re doing with much of that revenue is creating awareness,” Hannon said.

That awareness will be directed at expanding the nonprofit’s existing workplace campaigns, which account for about 50% of funds raised per year.

“So we are trying to grow, but not so much new companies because there isn’t a lot of that, but grow from the companies that already support United Way,” he said.

Of those companies, the United Way has selected 14 standouts to be highlighted as Change Makers, a video series that will run at BusinessJournalDaily.com/change-makers. The series debuts today with the first Change Maker, Compco Industries of Columbiana.

In the video, director of marketing and communications for the United Way, Roxann Sebest, talks with Compco President Rick Fryda about his company’s involvement with United Way, and why he feels its work is so important.

“The United Way has done a lot for a lot of people and we’re proud to be a part of the United Way,” Fryda said.

Whether through donations, volunteering or even through professional development with United Way staff, Sebest said Compco has been an invaluable partner through the years.

“They provide so much for us and it just goes above and beyond what the public knows,” she said. “So we wanted to recognize the companies that do all of this. A lot of people don’t realize what places like Compco do.”

The other Change Makers to be featured this year are: Cortland Bank, Hometown Pharmacy, Briarfield Health, Dearing Compressor, Farmers National Bank, Dickey Electric, Huntington Bank, Simon Roofing, Home Savings, DCW Group, Packer Thomas, AIM Transportation Solutions and Chemical Bank.

Hannon said the primary reason these companies and many others continue to donate time and money to United Way is the work that is being done, particularly since the organization made the shift toward what he calls a “community impact organization.” That shift was supposed to take place in 2008, Hannon’s first year, “and then the economy collapsed,” he said.

So they spent the next four years growing their annual campaign and diversifying their revenue streams to include corporate giving, foundation support and grants in addition to workplace giving.

From 2012 to 2014, United Way conducted research to find out where they could make the biggest impact, and poverty and education in Youngstown were what they heard about most.

“So we said we’re going to provide wrap-around services,” to help enhance existing programs Hannon said. “We’ll begin in Youngstown and we’ll expand.”

Today those efforts include the Success By Six and Success After Six reading programs, which assist thousands of students and families though tutoring, health screenings, food pantries and clothing drives.

“What I’ve noticed is many of the children we support, if there’s a starting line in a race, they’re behind many of the children in the suburbs,” Hannon said.

Because of the nature of the work many of the fruits of the United Way’s labor could be years in the future, Hannon said. Still, “we see success stories every day.”

As an example he points to the many children at Youngstown Community School, who four years ago weren’t reading at a kindergarten level.

“They’re now reading at 5th and 6th grade levels,” he said.

And it’s stories like those United Way will be shining a light on this year, as it looks to set the foundation for another 100 years of community impact.

“What I tell people is take the time and come and see the work,” Hannon said. “I assure you, if you come and see the work, whether you have the resources or not, you’re going to get involved.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.