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United Way looks back on its 75-year history

Friday, November 30, 2012

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Over the past 75 years, the United Way of Henry County and Martinsville, and its predecessor the Martinsville Community Fund, have raised more than $32 million that was invested back into the community.

The Martinsville Community Fund, the organization that evolved into United Way of Henry County and Martinsville, was formed in the summer of 1937 to raise funds for nine agencies, according to Tiffany Underwood, executive director of the local United Way.

Now, United Way funds 23 programs and services at 20 agencies.

For about the last 10 years, in addition to being a fundraiser, United Way has been involved in “community impact” — looking at community issues and what can be done to address them.

As a result, two collaboratives have been formed: Smart Beginnings and the Financial Capability Coalition. With both groups, partnering agencies, organizations and others pool and coordinate resources, Underwood said.

Underwood cited several milestones in the local United Way’s history:

In 1937, the Martinsville Community Fund was formed by a committee that included W.C. Barnes, Irvin W. Cubine, B.L. Fisher, C.C. Fishburne Jr. and Mrs. E.L. Hedgecock. A campaign goal of $9,865 was adopted to provide operating funds for nine participating agencies — Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Children’s Home Society, Emergency Relief, National Youth Organization, Library Association, Parent-Teacher Association, Red Cross and Salvation Army.

In 1946 the organization’s letterhead read: “The Martinsville Community Fund & National War Fund.” The drive included an allocation of $13,200 to the Virginia War Fund, which was dropped the next year.

In 1957, the steering committee, with English Ford serving as the fund’s president, employed a professional fund-raising organization to conduct the fall drive, which was expanded that year to include both the city and county. The goal was $61,171, and $61,523 was raised, a 54 percent increase over the previous year’s total of $39,932. Co-campaign chairmen were Frank I. Richardson Jr. and Wilbur S. Doyle.

In 1964 the fund was incorporated as the United Fund of Henry County and Martinsville Inc. under president Irving Groves Jr. Leon Globman was president and Shelton Scales was campaign chairman. The goal of the annual drive was $197,469, and $203,216 was pledged.

In 1972 the fund employed its first executive director. J. Lindsey Alley assumed the position in mid-April, reporting to W.J. Lester, president, and W.C. Cole III, vice president and campaign chairman. The goal was $343,300, and $358,690 was pledged.

In 1977 the fund observed its 40th anniversary by exceeding the half-million dollar mark this year. George L. Caraway Jr. was campaign chairman, and J. Randolph Joyce Jr. was president. Pledges totaled $506,734, 3.6 percent more than the $489,343 campaign goal.

Alley died on Dec. 8, 1978, and in 1979 Raymond P. Miller was hired as the executive director. John Decker was president, and Allan McClain was campaign chairman. The campaign raised $580,376, 1.6 percent more than its $571,102 goal.

In 1986 the name of the organization was changed to United Way of Henry County and Martinsville. Underwood said she believes the local organization became affiliated with the national United Way this year. George W. Lester II was president of the local board, and Frank M. Lacy Jr. was campaign chairman. Pledges totaled $814,609, 1.8 percent more than the $799,908 goal.

The United Way observed its 50th anniversary in 1987 with a dinner meeting at First Baptist Church for its annual membership meeting and awards presentation. Past presidents of the fund were recognized at the program.

The organization had its first Day of Caring (now called Day of Action) in 1994. That is a day when volunteers do projects at local nonprofit agencies.

In 2002, with a grant from Bank of America, United Way started Success by 6, an early childhood initiative to help prepare children for school.

In 2006, with a grant from the Harvest Foundation, the United Way began Helping Others Progress Economically (HOPE), a financial stability initiative. It includes financial education and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), where trained volunteers prepare income taxes for people who meet income limits. In addition, families get help acquiring the Earned Income Tax Credit and some other tax credits to put more money back in the hands of those who need it, according to Underwood and the United Way website.

The following year, the Smart Beginnings early childhood collaborative was formed, with support from the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation. This program targets school readiness, informs parents of community resources and helps them understand how to help their children become ready for kindergarten, according to the United Way website.

Underwood said early childhood providers, educators, the medical community, school systems and other nonprofits are involved in this collaborative.

In 2010, with support from the Harvest Foundation, the Financial Capability Coalition began, and it still is in its infancy, Underwood said. The coalition pools and coordinates resources of partner agencies to provide financial education and encourage people to have savings accounts, make smart financial decisions and stay away from predatory lenders.

Underwood estimates the local United Way touches one of every 2.5 people in Henry County and Martinsville.

It focuses on education, income and health, including programs that help children and youths, people in financial crisis, mentally and physically challenged people, as well as health and safety services, emergency medical services, homeless intervention, among others.

Agencies that received program funding in 2011 were Boy Scouts, Boys & Girls Club of the Blue Ridge, Citizens Against Family Violence, Fieldale Community Center, FOCUS (court-appointed special advocates), For the Children, Girl Scouts, YMCA, American Red Cross, Grace Network, Salvation Army, Step Inc., Edwards Adult Day Center, CONTACT (helpline), Henry County rescue squads, MARC Workshop, Piedmont Community Services, Mental Health Association and Stepping Stones.

Underwood was campaign chairman in 2008 and president in 2009. She became executive director in 2010.

As executive director, “I think you have to have passion for helping people, caring about the community and making a difference,” she said.

The difficult economic times of recent years have been a challenge for United Way, she said. For example, pledges dropped from $1,031,598 in 2007, to $853,147 in 2008, to $795,953 in 2009, to $718,996 in 2010, to $714,373 in 2011. The campaign goal this year is $750,000, in connection with the 75th anniversary.

“We try very hard” to keep the local United Way’s operating expenses low — about 10 percent, according to the most recent audit, Underwood added.


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