“Talk about forming a United Way began in the early eighties. The need for increased local funding and national risk and volunteer resources was clear. A group of local program directors met with United Way of Whatcom County at Rosario Resort in 1984, but the local funding base seemed too small at that time to justify the expenses of major fundraising. Too much work to generate too little funds. In 1993 an anonymous donor brought the concept back. United Ways of Washington’s Executive Director, Ron Gibbs facilitated several meetings throughout the county to initiate discussion.
“We originally had a board of seven members, which later grew to 13. We placed an article in the local newspaper asking ‘What are the most vital needs in San Juan County?’ That question resulted in over $240,000 in funding requests! We had no idea of the extent of the needs that we didn’t see in our everyday lives. It came as a shock to learn, for example, that a person I knew from childhood, who was then elderly, actually did not have enough food to eat in their cupboards.
That first year our ‘bulk mail campaign’ consisted of notes written by hand, asking for support from community members. We were very surprised that we only received $35,000 in response. We learned that major donors each have charities that they already support and interest areas to which they give. The feedback we received was that we needed to do three things: educate people – let islanders know that real, serious needs are out there; establish credibility -- a track record of successes; and show financial responsibility including tight control on how much goes to overhead. That is the commitment upon which we built United Way of San Juan County.
As time went on, we found that most needs reported are, in fact, legitimate. People came to us on several occasions saying they wouldn’t have been able to make it through the previous year without United Way. United Way helps local organizations by focusing on revenue, so those vital programs can spend their time providing services to those who need it instead of searching for funding. For those who give of their time and participate in United Way, I’ve always said: How do you do $10,000 worth of good in an hour per month? Serve on United Way’s board!”
United Way of San Juan County’s 501(c)3 Status was approved in January 1997. In November 2003, a quarter-time Executive Director was hired to help with the work load of a countywide organization. Over the years, the organization has matured and earned its track record of trustworthiness and success. From 2004 through 2013, United Way has provided almost $1,100,000 in grants to carefully screened local agencies.
We are currently represented by a volunteer board of twelve, representing all three major islands, and a quarter-time Executive Director. We have helped a generation of islanders get the tools they need to succeed. It is more important than ever to provide vital services to children, youth families and adults with special needs; to make our communities strong and keep the islands a great place to live.
If you served on our board and would like to share a little about yourself and your role in the organization, please contact us to be added to this page!