United Way of Southwestern Oregon was founded in1961 to provide an organized way to address the unique needs of people living on the south coast. Originally named “United Good Neighbors”, thousands of volunteers have since offered their time, talents and resources to help their friends and neighbors by choosing to “Give Where They Live” through our United Way.
Over time we have raised and distributed more than $7 million dollars to local charities and helped start or support numerous new agencies to meet the evolving needs of our community.
Anyone would recognize the names of the original members such as the Salvation Army, American Red Cross and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. But new agencies unique to the south coast began to join the United Way family in the 1970’s as community needs were better defined and groups of persons interested in addressing those needs formed.
Programs sprang up like the Women’s Crisis Service (now Women’s Safety and Resource Center) to deal with domestic violence, previously a taboo topic. While a homeless shelter called Temporary Help in Emergency House was formed by area churches to help keep transients from sleeping in people’s garages in the winter, the realization was dawning that many of the homeless had mental illness issues and were in need of safe shelter themselves.
The Star of Hope provided residential and work skills training programs for adults with developmental disabilities. Before, clients were housed in state facilities in Salem and the Willamette Valley far outside the mainstream of society and away from their loved ones.
More recently we have added the SMART Program (Start Making A Reader Today) volunteers working one on one to improve reading skills for children struggling with reading through grade 3, and the “Working Wonders” component of SHAMA House, a work skills training and transportation program for adults with mental illness. Working Wonders was selected as the best work skills training program of its type in the nation by Rutgers University this past year.
Currently we have 21 member agencies providing more than 50 services. Some you’ve heard of and some you haven’t, but each meets an identified and critical local need and is run by south coast people who care about their friends and neighbors.
Through the years the program has focused on four primary functions:
– Review and prioritize the current needs of people in our community
– Identify community human service agencies that meet those needs
– Hold an annual community fund raising campaign each fall for the benefit of all and to reduce the number of solicitations to local people
– Allocate monies raised to the community agencies that meet our most pressing needs
To ensure broad community support and awareness, early Directors designed a rotating Board membership policy to involve the diverse sectors of the community by limiting an individual to six consecutive years service on the board before having to leave for a minimum of one year. Currently the United Way Board of Directors has 30 positions representing various businesses, employee groups and government offices.
In addition to the traditional United Way activities of community review, campaign and agency allocation activities, recent boards have added projects directed at specific segments of the community. These include the annual Day of Caring which last year recruited 150 volunteers to do yard and house chores for seniors and persons with disabilities. This Saturday event helps about 40 households each spring in the Bay Area. Each winter our Coats & Shoes program buys a new coat or pair of shoes for a needy child in each public school classroom in Coos and Curry, grades Kindergarten to Four. Community service projects provide volunteer work crews to help non-profit agencies with yard maintenance, painting or facility improvement. A new program this year provides medical prescription discount cards for those with no medical insurance or who are under-insured. Use of the card can give non-insurance covered medications a 30-50% discount at the 15 participating pharmacies in Coos and Curry.
Whether in 1961 or today, United Way of Southwestern Oregon’s focus on serving the people of the south coast is key to the success we enjoy. After all, who knows local problems and how to use local resources to solve them better than the people who live here?
This philosophy is a gift passed on from our founders to this day as we work to “Give Where We Live”, now and into the future.