Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Will Pierce County Citizens Rise to the Challenge?

by Rick Allen, Phd, President & CEO, United Way of Pierce County

Most Americans are still struggling to make ends meet in this economy. Thousands of Pierce County citizens can be counted among those who are struggling. Over 40 percent of the residents of Pierce County are now receiving service from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). That's over 300,000 people.

Calls to South Sound 2-1-1 for human service assistance went up by 28 percent from 2008 and continue at unprecedented levels. Over the last year, the call center received over 76,000 calls, many from people desperate for help. Unfortunately, reports showed that only 39.8 percent of them were actually able to get the help they needed because the nonprofit programs had been overwhelmed and no longer had funding to provide the needed service.

We can all share stories of neighbors, friends, loved ones and family members who have lost jobs, lost their homes and are fighting just to stay afloat in this negative economic storm. Unfortunately, due to painful cuts in the budgets of almost all funders, it is likely the nonprofits who provide services to those in crisis are about to receive another round of deep cuts.

There are those who are stepping up to help and some of the sources of this extraordinary generosity might surprise you.

Young people in our local high schools are stepping up by increasing their community service through volunteerism. Over 400 high school students from more than 30 Pierce County high schools are expected earn a Varsity Letter in Community Service by volunteering more than 145 hours each during the year. Ten years ago, only seven students earned the honor.

Another example is that staff in numerous nonprofit organizations, including United Way, has taken salary freezes and cuts over the last two years. They have cut other internal costs which have helped to get more services into the community. For most nonprofits, these cuts are far too deep to sustain over time.

Russell Investments is also a great example of stepping up. Russell has pledged a $500,000 challenge matching grant to the community through United Way, pledging to match every new undesignated dollar donated to United Way’s community campaign. What that means is, if you add a new dollar to your past gift or if you make a new gift and pledge it to the community safety net, Russell Investments will match your gift with an additional dollar.

When was the last time someone gave you free money to help those in need in your community? It is impressive to see Russell’s social commitment to the area in which many of their employees reside.

However, the phrase “challenge match” is real. What that means is that Russell Investments will match each new dollar to the community safety net through United Way, up to $500,000, but only if you and others like you decide to take the challenge and increase your gift. In these difficult economic times, there is certainly no guarantee that will happen.

Will companies not currently participating in the community-wide campaign also step up? In those companies, every single new dollar to the community safety net through a new United Way campaign would be matched by Russell Investments. In a time of community crisis, we are hopeful that leaders in these companies will rise to the challenge, step forward and say, “Count us in. We will join the community-wide campaign in this time of obvious crisis.”

To do so, just email the Vice President for Community Education and Resource Development at United Way, Jay Thomas, at jayt@uwpc.org.