As the area's local United Ways - United Way of Jefferson County, United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley and Weirton United Way - wrap up their 2013 campaign seasons, they are depending on the generosity of Ohio Valley residents to help them continue to support more than 40 area social service agencies, providing youth programs, health and mental health services, senior programs, emergency services, family services and basic needs to thousands of friends and neighbors in nine West Virginia and Ohio counties.
All three executive directors - Beth Rupert-Warren of the United Way of Jefferson County, George Smoulder of the United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley and Kristin Bowman-Cross of the Weirton United Way - agreed the most important thing about donating to the United Way is to know funds stay in local communities.
"We are doing everything we can to be efficient and keep funds local," said Rupert-Warren of the United Way of Jefferson County. "We want to be responsible with every dollar."
United Way of Jefferson County Board of Directors President Dave France, left, and Past President Ross Gallabrese, right, flank Executive Director Beth Rupert-Warren. The United Way of Jefferson County supports 19 social service agencies in Jefferson County.
-- Staff photo
The Weirton United Way board of directors includes, from left, front, Executive Director Kristin Bowman-Cross, Board Member Catherine Ferrari and administrative assistant Linda Stear; and, back, Vice President William Kiefer, President John Frankovitch, 2013 Campaign Chair and Ex-Vice President Don Gianni Jr. and Treasurer Scott Winwood. Romano B. Castelli is the vice president, and Betty McGillen is the secretary. The Weirton United Way supports 14 social service agencies in Hancock County.
-- Staff photo
As the United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley nears the end of its annual fundraising campaign, five all-volunteer allocation panels recently attended orientation sessions at the St. Clairsville-based Riesbeck Food Markets corporate headquarters. Allocation Panel B consists of Emily S. Fisher and Susie Nelson, Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley, co-chairs; Harry T. Slacum, Wal-Mart at the Highlands; Darcy Clark, Cabela’s Distribution Center; Mathew D. Matteson, Eagle Manufacturing Co.; Julia Bachmann, Ohio County Public Library; A. Lee Blundon, WesBanco; Eric Palmer, Ye Olde Alpha; Jamie Remp, WesBanco Trust; and Scott R. Stewart, Riesbeck’s Food Markets.
United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley Executive Director George Smoulder goes over paperwork in his Wheeling office. The United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley supports 25 social service agencies in Brooke, Ohio, Marshall, Wetzel and Tyler counties in West Virginia and Belmont and Monroe counties in Ohio.
"The funds stay local," said Bowman-Cross of the Weirton United Way. "Everything is used here."
"Ninety cents of every dollar donated to the United Way goes directly to the community for social services," said Smoulder of the United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley.
The United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley covers Brooke, Ohio, Marshall, Wetzel and Tyler counties in West Virginia and Belmont and Monroe counties in Ohio. The Upper Ohio Valley chapter absorbed the Brooke County chapter six years ago because the Brooke County chapter was facing difficulties in meeting their annual goals as the population declined.
The United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley supports social service agencies that provide a number of services, including shelter for the homeless and abused, food for the hungry, assistance to military families, disaster assistance, youth mentoring, childcare, in-home services for the elderly, adult day care, adult literacy programs, economic crisis assistance, health and physical fitness programs, health care and services to those with special needs.
"We support a variety of different groups that provide resources to this region," said Smoulder. "These groups see to different needs to people at different points in their lives."
Services to each group are important, Smoulder said.
"We want our young people educated and prepared to be responsible adults, and all these different programs address different aspects of that and provide a good foundation for them. They are our future leaders and we have a responsibility to them to build a better community."
It is just as important to take care of seniors who have built and provided for the community and allow them to live life with dignity and a sense of purpose.
"Without our seniors, we wouldn't be here today," he said. "They worked hard, and many of them only need a little help to continue to live independently. These are good people, and it's hard for them to ask for that little bit of help they need to remain living independently."
Other agencies help provide daily needs for families and children in the area.
"They are often forgotten, but they give back so much," said Smoulder.
Many of the agencies also service those with special needs, teaching them to live on their own and helping them find employment and appropriate housing.
"These agencies are helping them function independently," Smoulder said. "Sometimes, a parent dies, and they have nowhere to go.
The United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley must "step up to the occasion" and provide more than funding, but also administrative and grant writing assistance; facilitating the distribution of unexpected donations of anything from office equipment to food and clothing; and providing networking between social service agencies. The group regularly hosts round-table meetings where social service agency representatives can share information on available grants and discuss how they can work together to eliminate safety net gaps and better serve the community. These meetings are not limited to United Way agencies, but all area social service agencies, as Smoulder said the agency has a responsibility to the community.
"A lot of good people struggle to make ends meet," said Smoulder. "It's good to get out there and talk to people - a husband whose wife has lost her job, someone who has to work a third job to make ends meet."
The agency also must be responsive to the needs of the community, especially during unexpected situations, such as the closing of the Ormet plant.
"This year, we were hoping to have a major campaign at Ormet, and they were excited to work with us," said Smoulder. "Then they had to close, hopefully temporarily, so we coordinated a food and toy distribution before Christmas."
The United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley has increased its goal to $777,777 - lucky seven - and stands at 85 percent of that goal as the agency continues its last push. In order to make sure most of every dollar goes toward social services programs, the agency's office is modest, using hand-me-down equipment and furniture.
"We're looking to cut costs administratively as much as we can," Smoulder said. "We want more of each dollar donated to go to our agencies, where they are doing the most good in the community."
Following the fundraising campaign, the agency's next large-scale event will be the Day of Caring Sept. 10, during which the United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley matches up volunteers with work needed done by area social service agencies - anything from cleaning to painting and more extensive repairs at agency offices to building playgrounds and structures for organizations such as the Boy Scouts.
"We would love to get more people in Brooke County involved in both volunteering and in agencies that need help," said Smoulder. "It's a good opportunity for people looking to volunteer."
The United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley Board of Directors includes President Patricia M. Fast, Vice President Bernadette Smith, Vice President Jason C. Haswell, Secretary James G. Squibb, Treasurer Dale D. Knutsen and members Bernie Albertini, Charles W. Bell, Jacque Jo Bland, Marc B. Cherneko, Jonathan Dunn, Rodney W. Haley, Donna Holmberg-Grigsby, Keith Hughes, Orphy Klempa, Jeffrey B. Knierim, George Krupica, Joseph Lovell, Roger Lyons, Craig Madden, Carmin Prati-Miller, Dan Moyer, David E. Palmer, Kirk Pfister, Holly Planinsic, Scott Reed, Patrick J. Reindel, Steve Roberts, Jim Rock, Debbie Romaine, Brad Shafer, William J. Wagner, Judy Riesbeck Wright and Daniel Young.
The United Way of Jefferson County has moved offices and now is located at 511 N. Fourth St., Steubenville. The agency has signed a 10-year lease, and, at the end of 10 years, the United Way of Jefferson County will purchase the building for $1. The larger space allows the agency to hold board meetings at the offices, and the agency also has been able to rent space to two small businesses, allowing the agency to cover the cost of its own rent.
"We are helping small businesses, and hopefully they will out-grow us, and we can help another business start up," said Rupert-Warren.
Rupert-Warren said she would like to provide meeting space for community groups.
The United Way of Jefferson County has partnered with Jefferson Behavioral Health and Goodwill Industries to provide a workspace in which work assessments are done. Jefferson Behavioral clients do filing work, answer phones and do janitorial work. The clients are able to have their work assessed, and the United Way of Jefferson County receives free clerical and janitorial work, allowing more funds to be allocated to social service agencies, said Rupert-Warren.
"We want to extend more partnerships in the community," said Rupert-Warren.
Future plans for the agency include facilitating partnerships between social service agencies in the county. Such partnerships would be like the one formed between the City Rescue Mission and two local day care agencies - 65 children passed through the mission's homeless shelter this year, and the day care agencies provided services to the children so their parents can look for work, go to doctor's appointments and work with Family Services to secure permanent housing.
"They can help them through the process and red tape," said Rupert-Warren. "I want the United Way to help bring agencies together and help the community."
The United Way of Jefferson County also works to help direct resources. When Wal-Mart recently received an extra shipment of wall art, the company donated it to the United Way, which has distributed it to area agencies, who have used the items as drawing prizes and for gifts to contributing individuals and businesses.
In addition to helping direct resources in an unofficial capacity, the United Way of Jefferson County also hosts the local annual Day of Caring. For the 2013 Day of Caring, there were nine projects throughout the county with 70 volunteers giving their time.
In addition to those projects, 25 high school students from high schools across the country volunteered to paint the tunnel walkway running beneath Sunset Boulevard in Steubenville.
"They all worked hard and worked well together," she said.
The United Way of Jefferson County soon will celebrate a year of providing 2-1-1 service. It is an easy to remember telephone number - 2-1-1 - which allows those in need to contact one central service to inquire about locally available health and human services information and referrals. The service helps area residents find food, shelter, clothing, rent/utility and job assistance. The service is free to the caller and available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
In communities without the 2-1-1 service, those in need can make between 10 and 14 calls to find one service. The service also helps the United Way of Jefferson County gather information on what services are in greatest demand, where those in need are being referred and where there are gaps in service.
"We are getting calls on a daily basis for housing and utility assistance," said Rupert-Warren. "It helps to know where the demand is, where the funding needs to go and where there are gaps in services."
Gaps that need to be addressed are transportation services and home health services for chronically or terminally ill children.
"If your child is ill, and you need a ventilator and you don't know any providers, that's difficult," she said. "One sick child who doesn't receive services is too many."
Now that gaps are becoming more clear, Rupert-Warren wants to facilitate co-operation between social service agencies to address them.
"There's a huge demand for transportation," she said. "I want to reach out and see how we can work together to serve our community."
In order to have the 2-1-1 service working at peak efficiency, Rupert-Warren is asking social service agencies in the community to contact her and let her know when a service has been added or discontinued, so the list is up to date. She can be contacted at the United Way of Jefferson County offices at (740) 284-9000.
In the future, Rupert-Warren would like to coordinate with local emergency responders in order to assess how best to involve social service agencies in addressing anything from a house fire to a large-scale disaster.
The United Way of Jefferson County's slightly exceeded it 2013 campaign goal of $440,000, it was announced Feb. 28.
Rupert-Warren credited the work of the agency's board of directors as instrumental in being able to consistently meet the annual goal.
"We have such a good board of directors," she said. "They are all very involved."
The board of directors includes President Dave France, Vice President and 2013 Campaign Chair Anthony N. Mougianis, Treasurer Richard DeLuca, Secretary Rupert-Warren and members Carol Bonar, Kristin Breeze, Marianne Featheringham, Kim Felmet, Jay Foster, Ross Gallabrese, Barry Gullen, Kay Hindman, George Komar, Judy Manfred, Greg M. McDonell, Laurel McDowell, Michael A. Mehalik, Jim Morgan, Justin Nicholson and Bernie Ravasio.
The United Way of Jefferson County will host its annual campaign recognition reception on Thursday at Hellenic Hall at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, 300 S. Fourth St., Steubenville.
The social gathering will get under way at 5 p.m. and be followed by the dinner and recognition event at 6 p.m.
"Each year, it gets harder and tighter to meet the goal," said Bowman-Cross of the Weirton United Way. "We just have to keep finding ways to meet it."
And that it did as the Weirton United Way exceeded its goal of $260,000 for 2013, it was announced Feb. 27.
The funds allocation process includes an extensive review by the Weirton United Way's Allocation Committee. Agencies who seek funds through the United Way give a presentation on how funds were spent the previous year and how they will be budgeted for the coming year. Following the presentations, the committee discusses how to best allocate the money available.
The Weirton United Way's member agency serve an entire cross-section of the local population, from youth through the Boys and Girls Club of Weirton, Dunbar Recreation Center, Hancock County 4-H and Weirton Christian Center to seniors through Retired Seniors Volunteer Program.
"We just visited the Boys and Girls Club, and I was very impressed," said Bowman-Cross. "They have an area with computers, where they are teaching computer skills, another area for homework, an area where they have a snack and a play area. It's the same with the Christian Center and Dunbar - if it weren't for these places, some of these kids wouldn't have anywhere to go after school and during the summer."
Area agencies offering after-school programs and meal programs are an important resource for low-income families in which the parents work and can't always be home when their children get off school, said Bowman-Cross.
"They can get dinner, and their parents know they are safe and off the streets," she said.
Additionally, programs like Energy Express, which provides summer reading retention while providing daily breakfast and lunch, continue to grow in popularity, said Bowman-Cross.
Programs like RSVP and the Hancock County Sheltered Workshop allow area residents to meet their fullest potential and continue to contribute to the well-being of the community, she said.
"A lot of our seniors have a lot of wisdom and skills," she said. "They can put their expertise to work, and they are truly knowledgeable. They're doing something that puts their skills to use on a daily basis."
The assistance of RSVP saves many of the member agencies thousands of dollars each year, as senior volunteers work with these agencies.
The Mary H. Weir Library also is a Weirton United Way agency and provides services to the entire community - from family-oriented programs to instructional seminars.
"(Executive Director) Rik (Rekowski) is always excited about what he's doing," said Bowman-Cross. "He's always got something - educational or entertainment - going on."
The Weirton United Way also supports the Salvation Army's Weirton Corps and the Community Bread Basket, and both agencies address food and utility needs in the greater Weirton area. Both agencies also have seen an increase in need and requests, with some of those who previously had contributed to the agencies efforts now becoming clients.
"A lot of people are a few missed paychecks from being in trouble," said Bowman-Cross.
The Hancock County Sheltered Workshop serves mentally and physically disabled county residents, and it is another Weirton United Way agency. Visiting the workshop and seeing the clients' enthusiasm for their work and excitement to receive compensation is an eye-opener, said Bowman-Cross.
"It gives you the best feeling," she said.
Future plans at the workshop include teaching life skills to those on the cusp of independent living, she added.
"These agencies wouldn't be here or services would be drastically cut if it wasn't for the funding they receive through the United Way," said Bowman-Cross.
The agency will be recognizing volunteers and welcoming the 2014 campaign chair during an upcoming banquet.
"We'll be showing our appreciation for our volunteers, agencies and anyone who helped us through the year," said Bowman-Cross.
The board of directors includes President John Frankovictch, 2013 Campaign Chair and Executive Vice President, Don Gianni Jr., Vice President Romano B. Castelli, Vice President William Kiefer, Secretary Betty McGillen, Treasurer Scott Winwood, 2013 Campaign Vice Chair Michael Hagg, Board Member Catherine Ferrari. Linda Stear is the administrative assistant.
One of the biggest changes the Weirton United Way has seen this year was a move from its former offices to new offices at 3970 Main St., Weirton, where they are between the Tri-State Medical Group's storage facility and Gus's Goodies.
"Our board thought it was a great space, a lot of our agencies are downtown and it had the space we needed," said Bowman-Cross. "We moved with the help of the Salvation Army, our (2013 Campaign) Chair Don Gianni Jr. and a whole crew of young men."
The Weirton United Way already has begun planning for the 2014 fundraising campaign, and 2014 Campaign Chair Michael Hagg is looking for ideas to engage the county's youth.
With that in mind, the Weirton United Way will host a three-on-three basketball tournament, open to players from third-grade aged up to adults. The teams will be divided into male and female divisions and play in age-appropriate categories. The tournament will be held March 28-29 at a place to be announced.
"This is something to involve the kids," said Bowman-Cross. "We feel that it's going to be a fantastic success.
Other events will include the annual fashion show, May 18 at the Serbian-American Cultural Center; the 33rd-annual golf classic, June 9 at Williams Country Club; 15th annual ladies golf outing, Aug. 22 at Woodview Golf Course; annual poker run, September; and school fundraising walks, fall.
"I know it seems like there's constantly something going on, but if we don't stay visible in the community, it's harder to meet our goal," said Bowman-Cross. "A lot of events bring in the same people every year, and they are giving in ways they don't even realize while having fun. Many of them look forward to certain events every year. It's something the community enjoys and promotes awareness as well."
Bowman-Cross noted the agency looks to keep events fresh and entertaining, introducing one or two new events each year and discarding those that don't engage the community and keeping those that do. One of those events is the Weirton United Way's annual Super Bowl party, introduced a few years ago to immediate popularity.
"We never thought it would take off the way it did," said Bowman-Cross. "Last year, it was standing-room only."
Bowman-Cross attributes the agency's continued ability to serve the people of Hancock County to the generosity of the community.
"This is a good community," she said. "It's a very giving community, and the businesses and individuals somehow help us make it every year. This is our last push, so every dollar counts and is greatly appreciated."