The United Way of Stanislaus County kicked off its 2012-13 campaign Tuesday with an ambitious yet achievable fund-raising goal of $2 million and with the announcement of an initiative to increase the high school graduation rate in the county.
Both are goals the community should get behind.
Like many businesses and government agencies, United Way leaders have been looking at a new way of doing business. Instead of helping to fund a broad array of local nonprofits serving a multitude of needs, United Way will be focusing on just a few areas and insisting on measurable results.
As President and CEO Francine DiCiano said Tuesday, donors wants to see results.
In coming years, the organization will focus on three areas: education, health and income stability.
Tuesday's lunch honored three local agencies involved in those areas. The Changing Lives Awards, named for longtime United Way volunteer leader Ron Emerzian, went to the Stanislaus Literacy Center's ReadingWorks program, the American Red Cross Emergency Response and Support Services Program and Haven Women's Center.
Also recognized were two key players in the campaign for the past year, which brought in almost $1.9 million. Kristi Kelly of Don's Mobile Glass received the Bette Belle Smith Campaigner of the Year award, and Nathan Miller, a CPA and United Way board member, was given the Chairman's Award from Clint Mort.
As nearly everyone knows, Bette Belle Smith was a legendary good samaritan for our community. She died in 2009. We think she would be pleased to see the 20-, 30- and 40-somethings in our midst who are emerging as leaders of charitable causes.
United Way operates some programs such as the 211 Call Center and the Volunteer Center but its larger role is in raising funds for other nonprofits and then distributing the money in a process that includes close oversight, to make sure the money is being spent for the purposes intended. United Way was among the first to notice the bad practices of the Stanislaus Community Assistance Project and cut off its funding even before The Bee began reporting on SCAP's problems with federal housing dollars.
Accountability is a very good reason for people to give money to and through United Way.
While some agencies no longer will get United Way grants, we think that most in the community will agree with the narrow focus on education, health and income stability. And raising the education level also is a way to improve the income level and health, because they are closely associated.
Much of United Way's money is raised through payroll deductions by participating employers. Some of the employers providing matching contributions, boosting the amounts raised. Fifty-five percent of the $1,876,157 raised this past year came from 12 employers. Two are public employers Stanislaus County and Modesto City Schools but the others are private firms that are consistent supporters of many worthwhile causes. They are E.&J. Gallo Winery/G-3 Enterprises, Foster Poultry Farms, Wells Fargo Bank, Kaiser Permanente, AT&T, Seneca Foods, Frito-Lay Inc., Bank of America, Save Mart Corp. and Valley First Credit Union.
We applaud these firms and their employees and all who support United Way. We think their new focused strategy will be, as their campaign theme suggests, a passport to a better community.
For more information on United Way, go to www.uwaystan.org or call (209) 523-4562.