Of the multiple charitable organizations that recently participated in Insitu’s Operation Outreach, one of the best known nationally, but least understood locally, is United Way.

United Way was established in 1887 by Frances Wisebart Jacobs of Denver, Colo.

Jacobs recruited a priest, Rev. Myron W. Reed; two ministers, Monsignor William J. O’Ryan, and Dean H. Martyn Hart; and a rabbi, William S. Friedman. Together they recognized that they needed to work together in new ways to make Denver a better place to live.  

They created an organization that would collect funds for local charities, coordinate relief services, counsel and refer clients to cooperating agencies, and make emergency assistance grants for cases that could not be referred. That organization became the nation’s first united campaign, benefitting 10 Colo-rado-area health and welfare agencies, thus, creating the movement that would become United Way.

United Way Worldwide is now headquartered in Alexandria, Va., with over 1,200 branches of the organization operating across the United States and 40 branches operating internationally.

One of those 1,200 branches is United Way of the Columbia Gorge.

Established in 2006, United Way of the Columbia Gorge operates in Hood River, Klickitat, Sherman, Skamania, and Wasco counties. Over the last 13 years, it has invested $2.6 million into Gorge communities.

United Way of the Columbia Gorge is powered mainly by local volunteers with only two part-time staff members. The United Way of the Gorge board is made up of seven members: Hood River Mayor Paul Blackburn as president; Steve Morrow as treasurer; Joe Guenther, president of the Hood River County Council; Doug Comstock, president of the Klickitat/Skamania County Council; Jeff Heater, president of the Wasco/Sherman County Council; Mary Gailley, and Gordy Sato.

Each year, United Way of the Gorge holds fund-raising events in these counties. Last summer was the first time an event was held in Klickitat County at the Point in Bingen.

The funds raised at these events are directly distributed to local programs that have an immense impact on the local community.

“We are focused on funding programs that are making the greatest community impact. Programs that support people, forge new ways for them to become productive and positive members of our community, which strengthens our community overall,” said Treasurer Steve Morrow.

In 2018, United Way of the Columbia Gorge allocated $247,000 in funds to 30 different local programs such as the Washington Gorge Action Program’s food bank, Klickitat County Senior Services, and Backpacks for Kids.

“Folks can make individual donations year-round. They can specify what program they would like it to go to and or it can go into the general fund. No donation is too small,” said Morrow.

Thirty-seven programs and agencies have applied for allocation in 2019, of which 28 have applied in the past and nine are first time applicants. As of March 8, United Way of the Columbia Gorge has $251,000 in allocation funds available.

The application process requires these programs and agencies to provide details of their programs, a financial statement, a 990-tax form and they must give a presentation and be interviewed by the board and six to eight local volunteers representing the five counties.

These agencies and programs are evaluated under the following criteria:

oEffectiveness of the service they provide.

oEfficiency of the delivery of the service.

oImpact on the community

oExperience and Stability

oFunding Leverage

oIndividual Assessment

“The programs must also do one or all of three things; provide a basic human need, keep kids on track, keep people safe and protected from violence or abuse,” said Morrow.

The presentation process lasts about four days and takes place in various locations in the five counties. The agencies and programs present who they are, what they do and how much in funding they need. The committee then has an opportunity to ask further questions of those agencies.

During this process the committee members keep a scoring sheet to determine what agencies and programs will get what amount of funding based on the previously mentioned criteria and their presentation. The committee will have a preliminary discussion and then rank the agencies based on the data they have collected. When the committee has a consensus, they will notify those organizations and allocate the money they requested to them.

In their applications the agencies and programs can note how much money they would like to ask for from United Way of the Gorge. This year a total of $363, 040 has been asked for by the 37 applicants.

“Some of them won’t get any funding this year and that is disappointing, but we always encourage them to apply the following year,” said Morrow.

If you would like to get involved of make a donation to United Way you can visit their website at http://www.unitedwaycolumbiagorge.org/

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