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United Way celebrates 100 years of service

by Elisha Morrison | January 16, 2017 at 4:00 a.m.

The United Way of the Ouachitas is celebrating 100 years of serving the counties that make up the Ouachita region.

"We are really excited about our 100 years and are looking forward to the next 100 years," said Greg Jones, president of the United Way of the Ouachitas board of directors.

Originally founded under the name Associated Charities in 1917, the organization served as a central location where the local business leaders who founded it could pool their money and distribute funds to the various charities they supported.

Jane Browning, executive director of the United Way of the Ouachitas, said Associated Charities was especially needed during the Great Depression, when the area was hit particularly hard.

The organization was incorporated into the United Way system in 1964 under the name the United Way of Garland County.

It carried that name until December 2016 when it was renamed the United Way of the Ouachitas to better reflect all the counties it serves, including Garland, Saline, Hot Spring, Clark, Pike, Montgomery and Polk.

Its current location, 233 Hobson Ave., was a gift from the business community in 1981.

United Way, like its sister organizations across the country, collects pledged funds that are given through employer deductions to distribute to partner organizations that support the community, although it also accepts donations from individuals and businesses.

Browning said the deductions allow a person who may not be able to make a large contribution to a charity at any one time to build up smaller contributions into larger amounts that are spread across multiple charities, often with employers matching or adding to donations.

"It is a chance for everyone to participate in uplifting the community," Browning said.

United Way serves as a bridge between the business community and local social service organizations, she said.

Jones also noted that money donated in the community stays in the community.

In January 2016, United Way of the Ouachitas' board decided to focus its efforts on addressing childhood poverty in the region after conducting a community assessment to determine the region's most-pressing need.

In Garland County alone, 33.3 percent of children live in poverty, Browning said. United Way still supports organizations that do not directly work with children, but asks that they create programs that address childhood poverty.

The United Way supports 22 different programs across the region, including the Boys & Girls Club of Hot Springs' teen program; Jackson House's lunch program; Abilities Unlimited's day treatment for adults with developmental disabilities; Imagination Library of the Ouachitas' Books for Babies; Safe Haven Housing for Women and Children's Tools to Build a Fresh Start; and First Step's Developmental Treatment Program.

Browning said they now have mini-grants of $1,000 available to assist smaller programs, such as Men Mentoring Minorities.

United Way's mission is to unite "people and resources to improve lives and build a stronger community," which it plans to accomplish by focusing on the "three building blocks of a better quality of life -- education, health and safety and income stability, with a particular focus on reducing childhood poverty."

In addition to distributing funds to social service organizations, United Way also administers emergency food and shelter funding for FEMA and the Oaklawn Foundation School Wellness Fund, which is distributed to counselors at the seven area schools, Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts and National Park College.

It also takes part in Stuff the Bus, to collect school supplies for area schools, and the National Association of Letter Carriers Food Drive. The organization is also part of the Southwest Partnership Coalition on Homelessness and takes part in the annual homeless count Jan. 24.

On March 31, t he United Way of the Ouachitas will hold its annual talent show, "We've Got Talent," which Browning said will include students from schools in all the counties it serves. The first-, second- and third-place winners will receive scholarships totaling $3,000. This year's show will be at Jessieville Performing Arts Center.

"These high school students are amazingly talented," Browning said.

The United Way, with its motto of "Give. Advocate. Volunteer.", also serves to pair up potential volunteers where they can best fit. Browning said United Way can look at a volunteer's available time, interests and talents and use them for one of its own projects, or match the volunteer with a partner agency.

Browning said United Way also offers opportunities for donors to see how the money is being used. Volunteers can join community impact teams to help the board determine which agencies will receive funding in the coming year.

Donors can get an up-close look at the agencies by taking part in the United Way's annual Day of Caring on April 28. Volunteers are split into teams and work on projects spread across the agencies that might include sorting clothes at a thrift store, bagging food at Project Hope Food Bank or painting at Ouachita Children's Center.

To celebrate 100 years, United Way will hold a birthday party on June 24. Browning said it will have a cookout on the United Way grounds and a carnival. In September, it will hold a gala, but the agency is still planning the details. It will have a final celebration during its annual meeting in December.

During the next 100 years, Browning said the United Way's goals are to see that every child enters third grade reading at that grade level; that every young child has books in their home; that families have plenty of food; and that children graduate high school motivated to look beyond to future careers.

"We are looking forward to continued community support as we move forward through the next 100 years," Jones said.

Local on 01/16/2017

Print Headline: United Way celebrates 100 years of service


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