PUBLISHED: 6:12 PM on Wednesday, October 8, 2008
United Way launches fundraising campaign
In 1887, a priest, a rabbi, and two ministers formed an association to raise money for welfare problems in Denver. They raised $21,000, which in those days could buy a lot of bread.

These men of the cloth pooled their resources for the common good. The organization they started was called the Charity Organizations Society, which many consider to be the origins of the United Way.

Erik Stimpfle photo
  Heather and Connor Swanson attended the United Way of Southeast Alaska fundraising campaign kickoff on Oct. 3. Connor receives infant learning services from one of the United Way's partner agencies, REACH Inc.
In the 20th century, the United Way branched across the nation. Today, Southeast Alaska's United Way based in Juneau serves as an umbrella group for 37 partner agencies spread throughout Southeast.

Each partner agency acts independently and relies on monetary donations. But private citizens also can elect to deduct monthly contributions from their paychecks and give them directly to one of the 37 member organizations here in southeast.

The State of Alaska employee deduction program is called the SHARE campaign, and the federal employees program is called the Combined Federal Campaign. Numerous private employers also participate in the program.

The kick-off event for this year's local United Way fundraising campaign happened at the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council on Oct. 3. Juneau resident Heather Swanson took to the stage holding her two-year-old son, Connor. Swanson said she has given to United Way all her life but she never expected to need help.

Erik Stimpfle photo
  Past United Way of Southeast Alaska director Lawrence Lee Oldaker and current director Brenda Hewitt.
Connor was born with complications and spent his first month of life in a neo-natal intensive care unit. After the Swanson family was able to take Connor home, they discovered an infant learning program designed to help families in their predicament. They started receiving services from the infant learning program of REACH Inc. Staff members visited four or five times per week, helping the family with learning to care for Connor's special needs.

The United Way of Southeast Alaska's goal for the 2008-2009 campaign is to raise $250,000 dollars from private and corporate donations. It seems like a large sum but the organization has a good track record when it comes to fundraising, raking in about $251,000 during its 2006 campaign. And that was just from private and corporate donations but doesn't include money from grants and other sources.

According to Southeast United Way's 2007 report, the total revenues for United Way of Southeast Alaska in 2006 was $485,000, with state workers in southeast Alaska contributing $109,000.

Brenda Hewitt, Southeast United Way's CEO, organized this year's fundraising kickoff, which included a silent auction and information booths about different Juneau organizations.

"If everyone gives a little then nobody has to give a lot," Hewitt said. "If everybody gives 1 percent of what they earn and they pool it, there is this large amount of money that can be used to actually solve problems. We are into trying to make lasting changes within our community."

There are currently 1,400 community based United Way organizations spread all across the United States that raise $4 billion annually from grants and donations. Local United Ways operate independently of the national organization, and pay a membership fee, which provides access to numerous services and the right to use the United Way Trademark. The membership fee is less than one percent of the money raised locally.

Board member Michelle Casey was also on hand doing her part for our local United Way organization. Casey is a communications director for Bartlett Regional Hospital.

"The money that is raised here stays here," said Casey, who wore a white t-shit with the words "Live United" written in bold across the front.

For more information about the United Way visit