Editor’s Note: This weekly column is the first of many, in which various residents of our community will share their United Way story and how United Way has personally impacted them and their families.
This year is special for many reasons: 2020 is a new year, a new decade, and for United Way of Southern Chautauqua County — it marks our Centennial year.
We are incredibly excited to spend this next year celebrating this significant milestone, remembering important moments in our 100-year history, inspiring you with the stories of United Way’s impact throughout this last century and looking forward to the future as the recognized problem solver in our community. One of the ways we will be doing this is through this year-long special blog and column, “100 Years, 100 Stories,” which will feature guest writers who tell their United Way stories and reflect what United Way has meant to them personally, as well as to our community. We’ve already been collecting those stories, and they are really inspiring — from individuals whose fathers volunteered in the early years of the Jamestown Community Chest to families who were able to be lifted out of poverty due to multiple United Way programs wrapping around them. I think we might need more than a year to tell all the United Way stories that exist in our community!
But these are supposed to be personal stories of United Way’s impact, and so let me share mine. I started as the Executive Director of United Way almost exactly two years ago, and I was probably as new to United Way as anyone could be. I had never donated to the organization; I had never volunteered for United Way; I had come from a non-profit that didn’t received United Way funding. I knew the name and the brand of “United Way,” but I didn’t really know much else before stepping into this leadership role.
What I found as I visited UWSCC community partners, interacted with Board members, experienced the significant relationships with both government agencies and local employers, explored the policies and practices established for many years and learned about the measurable impact we were having in the community… what I found was that I was proud to be part of an organization — as both a leader and a donor — that was incredibly effective and efficient, and instrumental in making meaningful and measurable change in our community. I’ve had many jobs in my career, but my vocation has always been about creating community change and development; United Way has been just one more iteration of that calling, and I’m grateful.
On December 6, 1920 at 6:30 p.m. at the Eagle Temple, the Jamestown Community Chest (what ultimately became United Way of Southern Chautauqua County) was launched. The goal of those men and women was simple: find a more effective way of “taking care of community charities.” They raised $92,186 for 12 different charities in that inaugural year, and the newspaper on that December 1920 Kickoff day reported their speaker encouraged those attending to invest in the “deserving people of this community.” I’m encouraging you to do the same.
Invest in lifting people out of poverty. Invest in the services and programs that help so many. Invest in the next 100 years of improving the lives of every family in our community. I’m confident that our return on that investment will make for one really great story, and I can’t wait to see how it ends.
Amy Rohler is the executive director of United Way of Southern Chautauqua County and a resident of Jamestown.