United Way of the Ouachitas Executive Director Jane Browning has worked in the nonprofit sector for 45 years, having lived and worked across the country from Maryland to Washington, D.C., to Chicago to Denver to Omaha.
"I've been a lot of places and I've done a lot of things but there is no place like Hot Springs, Ark.," she said. "In terms of community collaboration, cooperation, and support for one another, there's no other place like it."
United Way of the Ouachitas is celebrating its centennial anniversary this year.
Browning said something unique to Hot Springs that she's seen is its Community Coffee group, which meets at 9 a.m. every first Tuesday of the month to discuss the goings-on in each nonprofit organization represented at the meeting.
"I think this has been going on for 25 years, maybe even a little longer than that. They invite all of the nonprofits to send representatives to these meetings. There are 50-65 people who come to this every month and they network and they share and they keep their calendars straight -- 'OK, we're doing this on the 2nd of December so you might want to pick a different date for your fundraiser or we'll be competing with another one,' or, 'Could you help us out with this? We need volunteers.' And just to know all these different agencies and groups that are going on, it's just phenomenal.
"Nobody else does that, honestly. I lived everywhere -- nobody else does this. Hot Springs is unique and it's filled with wonderful people who are caring and sharing and just great at collaborating. This cooperation is extremely important, and that's what United Way means -- together, we can do so much more."
Two years ago one of United Way's volunteers approached the board and pitched the idea to organize a fundraising golf tournament for the organization.
"This remarkable volunteer, this guy who was really active with the United Way, he was in business and retired to Hot Springs Village. He loves the United Way and he actually worked for the POA organizing golf tournaments, so he came to us and he said, 'I'll do a golf tournament for you,' and we said, 'OK, go right ahead!" Browning said.
The tournament raised $4,500 last year and $7,300 this year.
"That's unrestricted cash that is very valuable to spread around," she said.
United Way of the Ouachitas has a mini grant program, designed to assist smaller programs in places that they typically don't reach out to, like Mena and Mount Ida, and the extra money raised from events like the golf tournament will sometimes go toward those smaller grants.
The organization also hosts a scholarship program each year called We've Got Talent, during which $3,000 in scholarships are awarded to the top three winners.
Browning said the organization is required to report its volunteer numbers each year and the last number reported was 350 active volunteers within United Way of the Ouachitas.
Volunteers are needed for the organization's different annual events, such as Stuff the Bus, a program designed to ease the financial burden on families with school-aged children, and Day of Caring, established in 2006 in Garland County to promote the spirit of volunteerism, increase awareness of local human service organizations, and demonstrate how people working together for the common good can accomplish great things.
"United Way, since the 1870s, has been running donation campaigns, fundraising campaigns, usually in the fall, and we have typically done it through employee designations, you know, through your monthly payroll deductions in different companies. Lots of time the employees put up a dollar or two out of each paycheck and then the corporation matches what their employees give, so these corporate sponsors of ours are very important," Browning said.
"All of this money goes into what used to really be called the Community Chest in our origins back in the 19th century, early 20th century. We put all of the money there and then people who need it come and ask for it and the way that we deliver it is through a grant application process. Any nonprofit is eligible to apply."
United Way of the Ouachitas will host a grant writing workshop at 9 a.m. Dec. 13. Any individual interested in learning how to apply for a grant may attend.
After a grant application is submitted, teams of citizen volunteers review them, make visits to the programs, and make recommendations to the United Way board.
"We'll be advertising in the newspaper, calling for those citizens to come on down and serve in that way, and it really is great for them because they get to learn so much about what goes on in this community," Browning said.
After an award is granted to a program, the recipient becomes a partner agency of United Way. All United Way partners are invited to a monthly TNT (Take Out and Training) meeting which is designed to build the skill sets of nonprofit managers.
"They are taught things like fundraising and recruiting volunteers and board development and all these other skill sets that a new CEO doesn't necessarily have. They might have come from education or something and don't know these things. We work together to make a better community and do a better job," Browning added.
United Way of the Ouachitas will host its centennial meeting and awards luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 14 at The Hotel Hot Springs & Spa. A special tribute will be paid to Terry Wallace during the meeting.
Wallace was Oaklawn Park's track announcer for 37 years and media relations director for 27 years. He called every race at Oaklawn Park from 1975-2010, a record of over 20,000 consecutive races, which is unlikely to ever be approached in the future.
Wallace is on United Way's board of directors and was the creator of United Way's Garland County's Got Talent, which has since been named We've Got Talent.
Visit http://www.unitedwayouachitas.org/annualmeeting for tickets to the centennial meeting and awards luncheon.
Local on 11/19/2017