The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

August 31, 2013

SLIDE SHOW: Joplin United Way celebrates 90 years

JOPLIN, Mo. — The theme for the United Way of Southwest Missouri & Southeast Kansas 2013 campaign is a simple one: “Do something.”

The two words are meant to stress the importance of giving, advocating and volunteering for the local organization, which helps fund 58 programs through its 35 partner agencies.

Those programs run the gamut from the Red Cross assisting families after a house fire and the Joplin Community Clinic offering medical and dental services to uninsured residents, to literacy programs through Joplin NALA and providing training and assistance to early childhood educators through the Success by 6 initiative.

But beyond the 2013 campaign goal and kickoff celebrations, this week also marks the 90th anniversary of the organization’s efforts in Joplin.

“We’ve been here 90 years,” said Bev Crespino-Graham. “The United Way has humbly and quietly done the work of the community. I think it’s time for us to start telling our story again.

“There’s a younger generation coming up that asks, ‘What is the United Way?’

“Were you a Boy Scout? Were you a Girl Scout? Did you go to the YMCA? The United Way has been in your life for a long time. You just haven’t known it.”

Setting goals

When Joplin launched its first Community Chest campaign in December 1923, it was seen as a way to pool efforts and conduct a single funding drive for the city’s health and welfare organizations.

The idea wasn’t a new one. Other cities across the country — starting in Cleveland, Ohio, a decade earlier — were establishing Community Chest organizations to raise and allocate funding.

After a series of hearings, the Joplin organization selected eight nonprofit groups to be the beneficiaries of the first campaign: Boy Scouts, YMCA, YWCA, Red Cross, Health and Welfare Association, Adult Education Association, County Association for the Blind and the Salvation Army.

The launch of the drive was cause for celebration, according to the Sunday, Dec. 2, edition of The Joplin Globe.

“Plans are complete for the opening of the Community Chest fund campaign, which will start Monday noon with a big parade of all workers. The parade will start at the Central school site and proceed north on Main to the Connor Hotel, where a luncheon will be served atop the hotel.

“During the five and a half days succeeding, the workers expect to obtain subscriptions to the community chest fund to the amount of $86,000 ... Every citizen of Joplin will be solicited, and each wage earner will be asked to subscribe at least a day’s earnings to the fund.”

Joplin ministers made the campaign launch the topic of that morning’s services. Boy Scouts kept busy distributing pamphlets about Community Chest throughout the city. And every business employing 10 or more people received a letter that outlined how they could get involved.

A week later, the results of the first campaign were announced. It closed with a total of $47,107.81. While short of the goal that had been set, organizers viewed it as a success and announced a “cleanup” drive for the following month to augment that total.

Mercer Arnold, the president of the Chamber of Commerce at the time, said the result of that first funding drive was “the finest Christmas present you could give to Joplin.

“We should be proud of living in the finest and best town in Southwest Missouri,” he said during an event honoring those who volunteered their time.

Goals were adjusted in subsequent campaigns, but it would be 1949 before the Joplin Community Chest achieved one of those goals.

Six years later, the organization became the Joplin United Fund and in 1977 it joined other national programs under the United Way umbrella. That marked a transitional period for the Joplin organization, said Sandie Morgan, who served as its executive director from 1980 to 1994.

“They saw joining the United Way of America as a step forward in the ability to raise money and get professional feedback so they could keep on improving,” said Morgan. “Things changed dramatically.”

She said that changes included monthly meetings and annual audits of partner agencies.

“We were trying to raise the standards of the agencies, most of which were already pretty darn good,” said Morgan. “But our expectations made them a little bit sharper. One of the biggest things United Way has going for it is the confidence of someone giving money that it will be well spent.”

That confidence was shaken on a national level in 1992 when William Aramony, then president of United Way of America, resigned after complaints were raised about his salary, travel and extravagant spending.

Morgan said when the scandal broke, she immediately gathered audit information for the local office as well as financial statements and contacted the media to make them public to give residents confidence that local donations were being used appropriately.

“It was a rough year or two,” she explained. “People said, ‘Whoa. I want my money to help people, not help you as a staff person.’ But we survived that and went on to continue raising even more money.”

In the spring of 2011, the United Way of Southwest Missouri merged with its counterpart across the state line to become the United Way of Southwest Missouri & Southeast Kansas. Today, it works to raise funds for agencies in Jasper, Newton, Crawford and Cherokee counties.

In the years since she left the United Way, Morgan said she’s been happy to contribute to the program on a volunteer basis and watch it continue to thrive at the local and national level.

“I’m proud of my service and proud of them,” she said.

Serving the community

Officials with local partner agencies say they are equally proud of working under the United Way banner.

The relationship that the Boy Scouts have with the United Way dates back to its 1923 roots, when it was selected as one of eight groups to benefit from the campaign. That relationship continues to be a vital part of the Ozark Trails Council, said Bryon Haverstick, district director.

“We receive a fair amount of financial contributions from the local United Way, in Joplin and across Southwest Missouri,” he said. “It makes up about 13 to 15 percent of our annual income.”

Haverstick said United Way funding helps fund scholarships, programs, camping opportunities and “all of the other things that Scouting offers.”

“They play a huge part in our success,” he said.

The local chapter of the American Red Cross was also one of the groups selected for the first Community Chest campaign.

“The United Way is one of our largest providers of funding for disaster services in the community,” said David Dillon, executive director of the Greater Ozarks Chapter.

The disaster services program provides relief for large-scale disasters such as tornadoes or flooding, but Dillon said it’s most active after residential house fires.

“We provide shelter, food and clothing,” he said. “Without that aid, people would be homeless.”

Because the Red Cross and United Way work to meet “essential human needs,” the pairing has been beneficial, he said.

“We certainly look forward to a continued partnership for years to come,” said Dillon.

The Joplin Community Clinic became a United Way agency in 1999.

Barbara Bilton, the clinic’s executive director, said that being partnered with them is much more than about funding needed services in the community.

“It makes your organization better, because it makes you live up to the United Way’s standards,” she said. “It shows the donors that your are an efficient, vetted organization. They put you through the rigors when it comes to quality, the efficiency of every dollar you spend and making sure that you’re serving enough people.

“Even though you might think you’re the best, they make sure you are the best.”

Showing outcomes

Much of the work done by the United Way is under the radar.

There’s a reason local residents don’t see commercials or billboards advertising what they do.

“That’s not where we put our money,” said Crespino-Graham. “We put our money in services that are making a difference for people.”

Last year, the Joplin chapter raised $1,235,000 — 96 percent of its campaign goal of $1.3 million. Even though it fell a bit short, it was still cause for celebration, said Kate Massey, director of community impact for the organization.

“It was a tremendous feat for us to raise that much money,” said Massey. “It was more than we’ve ever raised in a year.”

The goal for this year’s campaign will be announced during kickoff events on Wednesday and Thursday for business leaders in Pittsburg and a family fun night for donors at Carousel Park.

The goal for this year’s campaign will be higher than the 2012 goal, said Crespino-Graham.

It’s ambitious, but they’re up to the challenge.

“Donor fatigue is a reality. We know that times are tough,” she said. “But the great thing about United Way is that we value the $5 donor as much as the $10,000 donor. It’s not about giving until it hurts, it’s about giving what you can. And if you can’t give, we have opportunities to volunteer and opportunities for advocacy.”

Massey said the local United Way strives to make sure that donations are used as effectively as possible.

In Joplin, 11 percent of each dollar given goes toward overhead. Across the country, that number ranges from 18 to 20 percent.

“We keep our overhead low and efficiency high so we can show outcomes,” said Massey.

Several new initiatives are planned for 2013.

The Communities That Care survey will go out to students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades in September. Crespino-Graham said the surveys will provide “baseline data” that will allow the United Way to see trends on what issues are affecting students’ lives and indicate where new programs and services are needed.

Also in the pipeline is the Circles program, which is designed to help families move from poverty into independence, she said.

During the 19-week class, participants will develop an action plan with measurable goals, and then be paired with mentors who will work with them to achieve those goals.

The United Way will also hold training on Oct. 25 for people who would like to become involved in the allocation process. During January through March, the allocation teams meet with partner agencies to evaluate progress and make funding recommendations.

“How many other nonprofit agencies actually ask you to come in and be a part of the process all the way through?” said Crespino-Graham. “We ask you not only to invest your dollars, but also to invest your voice and your time.”


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