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United Way Holds Its Own During Tough Times

Linda Webb and Frank Rogan

by Melvin E. Matthews, Jr.

An agency created to help people during tough times is experiencing some of that itself: “I think the economy’s had a rather dramatic impact on the programs, our fund raising ability, and our ability to help people,” says Frank Rogan, President and CEO of United Way of Roanoke Valley.

“(The) first thing is that we’ve seen more people coming for help than we’ve ever seen before.  More of our partner agencies …are seeing more clients show up, and at the same time, they’re seeing some cuts in our funding from the government [and] the individual level.” Rogan adds that, “we are trying very hard to really re-engineer and redesign some of our systems so that we can help people in a way with less resources.”

Such efforts are paying off.  The current economic hard times notwithstanding, United Way of Roanoke Valley has held its own and in some instances, has actually raised the amount of donations coming in. During the last two years, the funds raised by United Way’s annual campaign has remained at the same level—approximately $6.1 million.  Rogan says, “I can tell you, there’s not many communities in the country that can say that their United Way is being able to holds it’s own during a very, very difficult time”—a fact he attributes to the dedication of the agency’s loyal donors and volunteers.

During the next six months, United Way will have some of its volunteers, board members and outside experts come together to identify some of the major problems confronting Roanoke – the root causes and what the community can do to solve some of them. Reducing Roanoke’s poverty rate is a concern, as is the city’s climbing but still-low high school graduation rate.

Then there is the issue that Rogan calls “really the basis of a lot of things in life”:  health.  “If you have your health, you have everything. United Way’s role is unique in that we really try to find those big issues out there, bring people together and provide the resources that get things done – working in partnership and collaboration with many folks in the community.”

As United Way’s Director of Development, Linda Webb’s job is to get individuals and companies to participate in United Way’s activities.  “I run a lot of special events,” she explains.  “I talk with individual givers – the high-level givers  as well as people that give a very modest amount for a long time, . . . [all] are very, very crucial to our mission.  We have many people who have been giving for twenty-five, fifty years.”

Currently United Way is preparing to invest the money raised during the most recent fund raising campaign.  About 100 volunteers will review applications submitted and make recommendations as to how much money they should receive.

Once the United Way board of directors gives final authorization in June, the agencies United Way supports will learn what their funding for the year will be.  United Way is seeking to identify which community issues are most important and make certain the right partners are being served.

Rogan feels that if people volunteer for this community investment process, it would shatter barriers and provide “a whole different view of who needs help and how that help is being provided.” He believes volunteers receive “a real sense of satisfaction knowing that they’re doing something to help improve lives in the Roanoke Valley.”

On April 7, United Way will hold its second annual “Bloom” special event at Hotel Roanoke, to raise money for such basic needs as food and shelter.  The theme for this year’s “Bloom” is “All Things Grow With Love,” and will feature the renowned gardener Andre Viette as guest speaker.  Last year’s “Bloom” raised $60,000—unprecedented for a first-year event.

That money, along with funds from other sources, led to the establishment of the Community Housing Resource Center on Williamson Road— which provides a one stop help location for people in need. Since last September, the center has helped 256 families, and by May, Rogan feels it will have assisted over 500 families.

“We created a better system by using our abilities to work in partnership and collaboratively. [Through] a data base …we were able to help people who, through no fault of their own, are down on their luck – and help them in a way that’s more compassionate, effective and efficient.”

Rogan characterizes United Way’s fund raising efforts as “a means to an end … to make sure that we have people that are healthy; able to take care of themselves and their families. Rogan aims for a “a strong community”—one where “all of us can enjoy the wonderful qualities [of life] that the Roanoke Valley has to offer.”

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