United Way keeps nonprofits afloat with community giving

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Every Moffat County resident has likely benefited directly or indirectly from one nonprofit or another.

If they’ve ever shopped at the Community Budget Center, if their children have ever gone to the Boys & Girls Club or if they’ve ever turned to Craig Mental Health — they’ve used a resource funded by United Way.

“We are a tool for the community to support nonprofits in our community,” said Corrie Ponikvar, director of Moffat County United Way.

United Way has been collecting and allocating funds to local organizations since 1978.

“A group of community leaders believed it was important to have United Way in our community,” Ponikvar said. “From there we began to make connections with all our major employers in our community to make workplace campaign pledges.”

United Way funds local nonprofit organizations through workplace pledge drives. Twenty-one nonprofits benefit from United Way, but it also allocates funds out to many more organizations, depending on where and how residents want to give their money.

They campaign from September to November: reaching out to local businesses to ask if people will donate a few dollars here or there from their paycheck to give back to the community. Then in February the United Way board convenes to discuss how to allocate that money.

“As a board member we’re constantly — seems like — in a cycle of both campaigning with the community to raise funds and then the other side of that cycle is to allocate those funds out to somewhere around 25 different agencies in the community,” said Joel Sheridan, a United Way board member.

United Way seeks about $400,000 to $500,000 in funds each year — delivering a large chunk of money to the nonprofits in Moffat County.

While many of these organizations seek funds elsewhere, they would still see a substantial loss without United Way funding, Sheridan said.

“The people who need (United Way) the most are giving us services,” he said.

United Way has only broadened its scope since it was launched.

“Initially when United Way started we only funded agencies that came in to apply to us,” Ponikvar said. But, as the organization grew, so did its reach. “We said to the community, ‘If you have a nonprofit you want to support with your payroll deduction you can support that.’”

Since that decision they have opened up payroll deduction donations to any regional nonprofit, Sheridan said.

Local non-profits would struggle without the aid of United Way, and United Way couldn’t get by without the aid of the community, Ponikvar said.

“We have the most generous community and words cannot begin to express how much myself and the board appreciate the support the residents of the community have provided over the years,” Ponikvar said. “Not only our residents, but our industry, and our small business (have donated to United Way). United Way would have never have been as successful as we are without the support. Our non-profits wouldn’t be able to provide the services they provide to the community without that.”

Youth United Way and Key Club

United Way took an opportunity to work with high school students to inspire a sense of philanthropy at a young age by setting up Youth United Way and working with Key Club.

Both organizations are run by high school students who want to get a handle on volunteerism and philanthropic giving.

Key Club focuses its efforts on volunteerism. The club’s facilitator, Lauren Kartis, a Moffat County High School teacher, said it’s her goal to inspire students to give back to their community.

“We try to focus on how can they help on the community,” she said.

They provide students with a list of possible places to volunteer and even can give students a letter for reaching a certain amount of volunteer hours.

Cindi Morris, now retired, headed up Key Club for about 15 years before she brought Youth United Way into the picture. Youth United Way — started under El Pomar originally in 2002 — is a student-run donation allocation program.

High school students form a board and determine how to allocate about $10,000 back into the community.

“It’s a great way for kids to learn about nonprofits,” Morris said.

Bridges Out of Poverty

United Way tried something new by launching a program in 2013 that would tackle the problem of poverty in Moffat County.

“We held a community conversation and met with all sectors of the population and visited with them about what they thought were important issues in our community and where they thought there were gaps,” Ponikvar said.

The root problem of most local issues — mental health, lack of parent involvement and high suicide rates — was poverty, she said.

“We realized that poverty really was the driving force of a lot of problems in our community,” Ponikvar said.

So, United Way launched Bridges Out of Poverty: a program that teaches community members about how poverty functions and also teaches classes to people in poverty to help them find proactive ways to get back on their feet.

Amanda Arnold, community impact coordinator for United Way, oversees the program.

“It’s an approach that provides community members mental models for understanding class and key lessons for helping understand poverty,” Arnold said.

The class for those in poverty started in February. Participants will attend two classes a week for eight weeks.

Contact Erin Fenner at 970-875-1794 or efenner@craigdailypress.com.

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