“THE POWER OF YOU.” YOU, THE MEMBERS OF YOUR LOCAL COMMUNITIES, ARE THE POWER THAT MAKES THE UNITED WAY SUCCESSFUL IN GETTING SERVICES TO PEOPLE WHO NEED THEM.
The United Way of Smith County has reached a milestone, serving the citizens of Smith County for eighty years. It was known as the Tyler Community Chest when the organization was first organized in 1940 by a group of far-sighted citizens who saw a need to step up and help fellow citizens who were less fortunate than many in the community. This group of Tyler leaders recognized that, despite the fact the country was emerging from the Great Depression, its negative effects were still felt by substantial numbers within the community. They set a goal to raise $20,000 that first year. They achieved that goal with support from the City of Tyler and from a few local businesses and individuals.
Establishing an organization dedicated to assisting with the health and human services needs of the community was not particularly unique to Tyler. Hundreds of Community Chest-type organizations had been organized in communities throughout the nation. Some used the name Community Chest, others had their own monikers; regardless of what they called themselves, they all shared a similar mission of reaching out to the poor, needy and helpless within their respective communities. By 1970, United Way of America was formed as a way for local organizations to work together for a common goal.
Since 1970, a theme that has echoed in communities across America is “The Power of You.” You, the members of your local communities, are the power that makes the United Way successful in getting services to people who need them. The very definition of “community” illustrates the important role YOU play in making United Way successful:
Community: a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common; a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.
“United Way chapters exist in communities across America. Each operates autonomously,” explains John Gaston, President and CEO of the United Way of Smith County. “United Way is a grass roots organization that serves individual communities throughout the nation by bringing together local nonprofits with volunteers from the public and private sectors. We are governed by local leaders who maintain the integrity of the organization through transparency and strong fiscal management. The money we raise every year supports the partner agencies of our local United Way.”
Today, the United Way of Smith County continues the tradition of community leadership that was begun eighty years ago. From the beginning, its mission was simply stated as “We are caring for our community by partnering with you.” Now as the United Way of Smith County begins its ninth decade, that mission has an expanded meaning:
We believe that empowering EVERYONE to give, advocate, and volunteer is the most effective way to collectively improve Smith County. It is only by working together that we can start to create lasting change and opportunities for all.
Now, more than ever, it is the support from caring members of the community who make it possible for the United Way to complete its mission. The current pandemic that has gripped our nation has affected thousands of lives throughout our community. This is not a crisis in some faraway land; it is a crisis in our own backyard. This crisis injured our local economy; has interrupted the education of the children; and has brought illness to our neighbors. Virtually everyone in our community has felt the negative impact of this crisis that swept across the globe. As a result, more people than ever are in need of services provided by the partner agencies of the United Way of Smith County.
To demonstrate how important the United Way is to our local community, consider this fact: one in four families in the Tyler/ Smith County service area are touched directly by one of its partner agencies. Put another way, approximately 60,000 people receive some type of aid through one of the agencies supported by the United Way of Smith County. “These nonprofits are vital for the well-being of thousands of our neighbors,” Gaston emphasizes. “Because of the efforts of United Way volunteers and the businesses and individuals who lead the way in fundraising, we are able to make life better for thousands of people who share our community.”
In the past, there has been some confusion on the part of the public about how the United Way operates. There are local companies that are “Community Pillar” sponsors. This select group of companies designate specific amounts of their corporate gift to cover the administrative costs of the local United Way annual fundraising campaign. That ensures that gifts from the public go to meet real needs in our community and are not used in any way to defray United Way overhead costs.
The nonprofits who receive financial support from funds raised through the United Way annual campaign are referred to as Partner Agencies.” The number of partner agencies changes from year-to-year. 100% of funds raised stay in the local community and are allocated directly to the partner agencies of the United Way of Smith County. Currently, there are twenty-four local agencies affiliated with the United Way of Smith County. They represent a variety of programs that impact different segments of our community.
PROGRAMS DIRECTLY PROVIDED BY UNITED WAY
The 2-1-1 East Texas Help Line Call Center: This is the number to call when you don’t know who to call. The service is free, anonymous, and available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year. Trained and certified Community Resource Specialists answer calls and provide assistance to every caller by assessing the need and providing referrals to the appropriate local charity, nonprofit, or governmental agencies. On a normal day, the 2-1-1 call center averages about 150 calls. During the current COVID-19 crisis, the call center is receiving an average of 350 calls a day from people needing some sort of assistance.
In 1991, the United Way of Smith County responded to the need for people in our community to easily access help from charitable and governmental agencies by implementing INFOLine, a Smith County information and referral service. As an active member of the Texas Alliance of Information and Referral Systems, the United Way of Smith County, along with other community organizations, formed the task force for the Texas Information and Referral Network. The task force worked in partnership to develop and implement a statewide information and referral network. Its goal was to provide all Texans with one number to access health and human services, thereby simplifying the task of finding help. The partnership was successful, and in July 2000, the Federal Communication Commission set aside the 211 code nationally for universal access to health and human service information and referrals, and the 2-1-1 dialing code was born. In February 2004, INFOLine transitioned to the 2-1-1 East Texas Area Information Center covering fourteen counties, Anderson, Camp, Cherokee, Gregg, Harrison, Henderson, Marion, Panola, Rains, Rusk, Smith, Upshur, Van Zandt, and Wood counties. In February 2020, the service celebrated twentynine years of service to the East Texas community and fellow Texans across the state.
United Way’s partnership with the Health and Human Services makes this much-needed service available to our community and a network partnership across 94% of the United States. Whether in times of natural disaster or personal crisis, 2-1-1 is committed to being the first, most essential resource to anyone who needs help.
The East Texas Center for Nonprofits:
Provides management training and coaching services to ensure a stable and sustainable future for member agencies. Established in November 2000, ETCN answers the need many area nonprofits have to ensure their staff employees and volunteers are properly prepared to interact with the public. In 2019, ETCN conducted 350 hours of training, serving 2,071 individual nonprofit professionals representing more than 280 organizations. The center offers personalized services in the areas of Board Governance, Strategic Planning, Grant Research and 501(c)(3) Regulations to help local nonprofits improve their overall management. Their training services are provided at lowcost, or in many cases, no-fee at all. In the effort to help build strong executive and board leadership, ETCN initiated a training program that culminates with presentation of their Nonprofit Management Certificate upon successful completion of the course.
United Way supports local Education programs of the following agencies:
Boy Scouts of America – East Texas Area Council, Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas, Literacy Council of Tyler, The Mentoring Alliance, Smith County Champions for Children, Smith County 4-H
Local Financial Stability programs are supported for the following agencies:
Azleway, Christian Women’s Job Corps, Goodwill Industries of East Texas, Habitat for Humanity of Smith County, PATH, The Salvation Army, Tyler Day Nursery
Local Health and Wellness programs are supported for the following agencies:
Alzheimer’s Alliance of Smith County, The Arc of Smith County, Bethesda Health Clinic, Children’s Miracle Network, East Texas Food Bank, Meals on Wheels East Texas, Next Step Community Solutions
Local Crisis Intervention programs are supported for the following agencies:
American Red Cross of East Texas, CASA of Smith County, Children’s Advocacy Center of Smith County, East Texas Crisis Center In need of more office space, the United Way of Smith County was fortunate to be gifted the historic Woman’s Building in 2017. Located on South Broadway at the corner of Dobbs, across from Hogg Middle School, the Shirley Simon-designed structure was completed in 1932, and for decades it was the site of social, civic, and educational events under the auspices of the Tyler Woman’s Forum. The building had fallen into disrepair and required extensive work to convert it into offices for the United Way. “Because it is registered as a local, state, and national historical landmark, we were required to petition the Tyler Historical Preservation Board for approval to make renovations,” Gaston said. The renovations strictly followed historic preservation guidelines and included bringing the building up to current building code standards, making the interior ADA compliant, including the restrooms, and the addition of an elevator to provide access to the upper floors.
“Part of our agreement with the Tyler Historical Preservation Board was the inclusion of a program to sell naming rights for the building. Our goal is to find a benefactor who will provide the funds necessary to provide for the building’s future long-term maintenance in exchange for the right to name the structure,” Gaston explained. “Our hopes are that such a benefactor will honor an individual or organization that has been instrumental to the success of the United Way’s mission in Smith County.”
In spite of the interruption in this year’s campaign caused by the sudden COVID-19 pandemic, the United Way of Smith County conducted another successful fundraising campaign. The 2019-2020 campaign for United Way of Smith County ended on March 31, 2020, raising a total of $1,516,262. Not only was the goal for 2019 exceeded, the effort exceeded the 2018 campaign total by more than $250,000!
As concern mounts for a second wave of the pandemic this fall, the staff of the United Way of Smith County are prepared for helping local people in need find the resources that addresses their problems. The staff and volunteers who man the 2-1-1 East Texas Help Line will remain on the frontline to assist our East Texas neighbors in need. Should you need services, please don’t hesitate to call 2-1-1. They will be there, as they have been for the past twenty-nine years!
Because the local demand for services throughout Smith County has increased by nearly 300%, due to the effects of the pandemic, the 2020-2021 fundraising campaign is expected to be one of the most critical in recent years. The last time our community had this level of uncertainty about local health and human services needs dates back to October 1940, when local leaders met at the Blackstone Hotel and formed the Tyler Community Chest. The uncertainty facing our community then was because World War II was raging in Europe. The following year, the United States was drawn into the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor. This fall, eighty years later, our community faces the uncertainty of a virus that has affected virtually every person in Smith County on some level. The economic impact is harder on some of our neighbors than others. For that reason, record levels of request for help are anticipated. More than ever, the United Way of Smith County will be depending on the generosity of our fellow East Texans to dig a little deeper and support the partner agencies, who will in turn be providing the help many of our neighbors so desperately need.
United Way is now the largest, non-governmental funder of health and human services in the world. Beginning with the original $20,000 raised by Tyler Community Chest in 1940, the United Way of Smith County has to date put more than $65 million back into the local community. For the entirety of its eighty-year existence, the United Way of Smith County has been completely autonomous and governed by a local volunteer board of directors, comprised solely of concerned citizens who come from virtually every walk of life. They are good citizens helping other citizens in order to make a better community for everyone in Smith County.
Visit www.uwsmithcounty.org to learn more about the United Way of Smith County or to make a contribution to support their good works.