When it comes to helping the community, United Way of Marion County is a driving force. Not merely a fund raiser, United Way has increasingly positioned itself as a problem solver, supporting dozens of area nonprofit organizations with both financial and volunteer resources.
Amber Wertman, executive director, noted what sets United Way apart from other charitable organizations, “The world is full of people and organizations dedicated to helping others. But thousands of individual efforts don’t necessarily add up to widespread progress – that’s why United Way’s approach is so important and effective.”
United Way’s approach can best be summed up in one word – collaboration. United Way believes not only in funding local programs that improve the health, education, and financial stability of those in Marion County, but in maximizing effort through collaboration.
This year, United Way teamed up with the local OSU Extension office to host weekly Lunch and Learn sessions focused on training Marion organizations to impact the community by working together. The goal is for community leaders to form partnerships to treat the root causes of issues like homelessness, hunger, and lack of decent employment and healthcare, rather than treating symptoms or creating short term solutions for wide-reaching social concerns.
The realization that it takes more than money to address major social issues prompted a major shift in United Way’s philosophy. In order to accomplish lasting community change, United Way’s focus shifted from what agencies need to what the community needs. Consequently, United Way become much more than a fundraiser. They’re now a researcher of and educator on community issues – and a full partner in addressing those issues.
Wertman explained, “We began to ask questions like, ‘Why are people homeless and how can we help them to find a home and become self-sufficient? If they are homeless because they can’t find a job, then we need to help them become employable and find employment. If they are homeless because they don’t understand how to budget, then we need to teach them budgeting skills. The object is not to give them a meal and a bed in a shelter–it’s to make sure they never need a shelter again.’”
United Way of Marion County has become a regional organization, directing long-term community impact and fundraising activities across three north central Ohio counties. Wertman serves alongside a staff of six and a 13-member board of trustees. They partner with 16 agencies and fund 31 community enhancement programs, such as the Boys & Girls Club of Marion, Safety City, Heart of Ohio Homeless Shelter, Marion Goodwill Industries, Turning Point, Marion Matters, and others.
Wertman stated, “Our area United Ways are on-the-ground in our communities, working with nonprofits, businesses, and government to lead collective impact that drives results.” Last year, over 25,000 individuals in Marion County utilized programs funded by United Way.
United Way is able to positively impact the community due to the collaboration of donors and volunteers.
“Volunteers are a critical piece to the success of our community,” said Wertman. “United Way volunteers save agencies over $179,000 annually by the needs they fill with their energy and passion.”
United Way’s encouragement of collaboration extends to its community volunteers through their Volunteer Resource Center and Get Connected website. Get Connected, a free, user-friendly website, helps Marion residents match their talents to needs across the community, based on their interests and availability. It is available online at volunteer.unitedwaymarion.org.
“We are incredibly appreciative of the generous donations given by businesses, employees, organizations, and individuals throughout the community,” said Wertman. “Some form of annual community fund drive has existed in Marion since the mid-1930s, and United Way, specifically, since 1972. The tradition of generosity in our community has a long legacy and continues positively impact people and programs in Marion.”