100%: Fort Smith United Way

by: Eddie Lee Herndon, Executive Director, Ft. Smith United Way

When you wake up in the morning what do you and your children think about?

If you are like most families you probably think about getting the children off to school, what you are going to have for breakfast, are you going to send the children with their lunch or have lunch at school (depending on the school menu that day). You are probably thinking about any homework or projects that need to be finished, packing a bag for afternoon sports, cheerleading, or band, and making sure the children have brushed their teeth. You probably begin thinking about your first appointment at work, paying bills, or even tasks that need to be done at home like feeding the pets or household duties like washing clothes.

Unfortunately, first morning thoughts like these are not so common with many families. For some families the first thought in the morning is not what they are going to eat, but if they are going to eat. Just knowing that the children will go to school and get a breakfast and a lunch is a relief. Then the anxiety and fear creeps in about what the family will be able to eat for supper. Other thoughts occur like do we have enough money for school supplies and clothes. Many adults wake to the fear of abuse within the home and making it out the door in a peaceful manner only to worry about returning home in the evening. For many of our families’ worries kick in over real life decisions about whether to have food on the table or go to the doctor, or pay the utility bills or rent.

Of course there are many other examples of toxic stressors that impact so many families every day, but these are just a few and these few are too many. United Way of the Fort Smith Area works everyday along with our partner agencies and hundreds of volunteers to eliminate such toxic stressors and provide a path for healing and recovery from financial instability, food insecurity, hunger, abuse, homelessness, and lack of educational resources or opportunities for those with special needs.

People often say to me that they recognize United Way as one of the top nonprofit agencies and brands, but really don’t understand exactly what United Way does. I give people this simple answer, “United Way unites people and resources to make lasting community change.” In fact, United Way of Fort Smith Area funds 34 programs that directly impact the lives of all people from babies to the elderly in education, health, and financial stability.

Every dollar goes to help someone

A second question that I am asked is how much is the United Way of Fort Smith’s administrative fee. Another way to state the question is what percent of donations go to fund operations. The answer is ZERO. The United Way of Fort Smith operates from interest earned from an endowment fund that was established for the purpose of operations. Thanks to the foresight of visionary leaders like Roland “Rollie” Boreham, Jr., the United Way of Fort Smith Area’s Endowment allows 100% of every donation to be used to fund agency programs and community initiatives. Every single dollar of every single donation goes straight back into the community to make a difference.

A third question that I am asked is who decides how much each agency receives in funding. The process of funding agency programs is called Community Investment (formerly called allocations). The Community Investment process is volunteer driven. Volunteers accept and review agency grant requests, visit the agencies, review agency audits, make sure they are meeting all guidelines to be a strong and trustworthy nonprofit, and that are making a difference in their chosen area of work whether it be health, education, or income. The process is often a difficult one for volunteers because it almost a certainty that there are more requests than there are funds available each year. These volunteers from our local community decide how much to fund each program request.

A fourth question is should I give even though I only have a small amount to offer. The answer is yes. Imagine for a moment that there were buckets placed at every entrance to Razorback Stadium on game day. Now imagine if everyone just gave $1. That would be $72,000 donated in just one game. Now imagine if everyone in the Fort Smith area that could just gave $1. Imagine if they gave $1 per month. The number would be staggering. Every gift is so important no matter how small or large because together all gifts make it possible to create lasting change.

Please join us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or visit our website at www.unitedwayfortsmith.org to learn more about how you can help make a difference. GIVE. ADVOCATE. VOLUNTEER.