The United Way of Wyoming Valley is celebrating their 100th anniversary this year. In honor of this milestone, Bill Jones, President and CEO, is sharing the nonprofit’s fascinating history. We’ll look back on how they’ve served our community over the years and continue to create opportunities for a better tomorrow.
United Way Works to Break the Cycle of Childhood Poverty
The first two parts of this three-part series highlighted the key dates of the United Way of Wyoming Valley’s fascinating 100-year history. For a fundraising organization to not only survive, but thrive, over such a long period of time—despite the Great Depression, a number of devastating wars, periods of economic hardships, large-scale natural disasters and now a pandemic—is truly a testament to the kindness and generosity of our wonderful community.
After studying and reflecting on our history, I am inspired by the vision of the community leaders that created the Community Welfare Federation in 1921. The organization was founded on a promise with and for the community. The promise implied that if the community supported the annual campaign, those funds would be used to help neighbors in need and improve our community. One hundred years later, that promise still continues and is as vibrant as ever.
As the organization looks forward to its second century of service, our community still faces a number of challenges. Among the most pressing of these is the alarmingly high rate of childhood poverty. In 2012-13, the child poverty rate was 29.6%. This was double the 14.7% rate from the 2000 census, just 12 years earlier. That means that nearly one in three children under the age of 18 in the Wyoming Valley were living in poverty. Pre-pandemic, the rate was 26%, which is still significantly higher than state and national averages.
In 2014, after a great deal of research and planning, the United Way of Wyoming Valley transformed how we served the community and put our “stake in the ground” on the issues of childhood poverty. Poverty affects the education and healthy development of children. It is a root cause of the ever-growing social service need. Directly or indirectly, it impacts all of us and our entire community.
In simplest terms, our “bet” is this: if we can help at-risk kids earlier in life, we will be able to prevent bigger issues and reduce the need for human services later in life. Although we continue to fund “safety net services” like Helpline/211, housing and utility assistance and homelessness and domestic violence support, the United Way of Wyoming Valley has prioritized the education and health of children and the financial stability of families.
The original vision of the founders of the Community Welfare Federation has not changed. Today, our mission is still to strengthen the community and to help those in need. Our strategy has simply changed. In addressing childhood poverty, we have narrowed our focus to increase our impact.
Obviously, addressing childhood poverty is a long-term strategy, and there is so much to do. Families did not fall into generational poverty overnight, and it will take time to help them “break the cycle.” Yet, our work is promising. Through the efforts of our partner agencies and the development of our own special initiatives that address brain development, school readiness, reading proficiency, school attendance, summer learning, health and hygiene needs, vision and more, we touched the lives of 17,600 children last year.
Improving the odds of success for at-risk children and families is not just a goal—it is our promise. As we enter into our second century of service, this is and will be our passion. We are grateful for all who support this important work. Together, we are changing lives and improving the community we call home.