Worldwide, United Way came to fruition in Denver, Colo., in 1887 after a group of religious leaders recognized a need for action and came together for the greater good of the community to form an organization meant to help those in need.
Frances Wisebart Jacobs, the Rev. Myron W. Reed, Msgr. William J.O'Ryan, Dean H. Martyn Hart and Rabbi William S. Friedman founded the Charity Organizations Society, the first United Way organization, in 1887, and in 1888 the city of Denver raised almost $22,000, creating a movement that would eventually spread throughout the country, then the world.
"Denver, at that time, there had been a gold rush and everybody came out to make their fortune," said United Way of the Ouachitas Executive Director Jane Browning. "Well, few people did but most people didn't. They were drinking in the saloon and lying around in the street, they didn't have anything, and so the faith community came around and said, 'We have to respond to these people, they need our help.' So they started the Community Chest and it spread around the world, actually -- we're all over the world."
In 1928, a Community Chest organization was established in Cape Town, South Africa, becoming the first Community Chest outside North America. By 1974 there were enough United Way organizations that United Way of America and United Way International was born and later joined forces to become United Way Worldwide.
Locally, in 1917, members of the Hot Springs business community recognized a need in their own community and formed Associated Charities to serve as a central location where local business leaders could pool their money and distribute funds to those in need.
In its first year, Associated Charities provided 1,182 personal interviews with applicants for help, made 1,625 personal visits, provided assistance to 251 families, and served 28,248 meals.
In 1964, Associated Charities was incorporated into the United Way system as United Way of Garland County, which became United Way of the Ouachitas in December 2016 after the organization realized its outreach was much farther than the boundaries of Garland County.
"For a long time we were United Way of Garland County, then our partner agencies were all meeting together and I had a map up on the board and I said, 'Stick a pin wherever your program reaches, where your clients come from, where you have an operation,' and those pins went all the way to the Oklahoma border," Browning said. "Hot Springs is a city unto itself but it is a regional hub. People come from all over, especially from the west where it's like 90 percent state forest. I drove from here to Mena one time and saw a bear on the road, running along the side of the highway.
"So, I realized then, the name Garland County is much too restrictive; we really do cover this entire Ouachita region, plus I think that's just a wonderful word, Ouachita. It's like an Arkansas secret, an inside joke, because nobody else knows how to spell it or pronounce it."
Over the past 100 years United Way of the Ouachitas has become the largest philanthropic organization in the community and awards approximately $250,000 per year to those in need.
"We've been doing this from the very beginning. We are a unique bridge between that business community that provides the funding, and the nonprofit community which discreetly and efficiently distributes that wealth to people who are in need," Browning said.
In 1981, the business community gifted United Way of the Ouachitas with its current location at 233 Hobson Ave.Tabloids on 11/19/2017