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Donations Flow Through United Way

Asking people to pull out their checkbooks is not a "slam dunk," even with the United Way name.

Gray Wells says this about the Loudoun United Way as she helps finalize the 2001 campaign count. A goal of $520,000 may be surpassed with an estimated $600,000 in collections, but there is a catch. Donors asked that $150,000 go toward Sept. 11 relief funds and the American Red Cross, so collections for Loudoun's United Way-designated agencies will be about the same as last year's campaign collection of $458,500.

"If you take that out, we're happy we broke even," said Wells, regional director.

The Loudoun United Way collected $3,600 in 1980 and $385,000 in 1990, a peak year. The lowest collection in the 1990s was $266,000 in 1993. Collections increased to $300,000 by 1995 and continued to rise from there.

A campaign lasts one year, peaking from September to December and closing in March. The goal for the 2002 campaign will be set this summer and based on the funds raised in the 2001 campaign.

"When you give through United Way, you can pick [to] which agency you're giving," Wells said.

Loudoun residents and businesses mark on donor pledge cards the donor designations and amount of funding they desire to give. Or they give directly to a Community Services Fund in the county they select or for the entire capital area. Agencies that provide services in Loudoun submit grant requests each year to receive the funding from the Loudoun or the capital Community Services Fund.

Loudoun agencies submitted 40 grant requests in 2001 and another 51 requests for the 2002 campaign. Twenty-five volunteers review the requests to determine which agencies receive funding and how much.

"It's a great way of helping one community, one county. You don't have to pick out the most important agency. You are trusting this group of volunteers to figure that out," Wells said.

THREE HUNDRED volunteers work for the United Way, including about 100 volunteers who run campaigns through their companies and several others who help with the overall campaign. Some of the volunteers serve on the campaign cabinet, which consists of 20 local business leaders responsible for starting campaigns at non-participating businesses, and others help identify community needs by gathering and analyzing surveys and other data.

"United Way works to educate the community on what the needs are and where people can get help. We're more than a fund-raiser," Wells said.

Thirty-eight agencies physically located in Loudoun County receive United Way funds, along with several other agencies that provide services to the county and to Loudoun residents but are located elsewhere.

The Friends of Loudoun County Mental Health could not exist without the Loudoun United Way, according to Judy Hines, board secretary. Fifty percent of the agency's funding comes from the United Way and the rest through fund-raisers, the state Neighborhood Assistance Program and other funding sources. The agency's A Place to Call Home program provides rental assistance to mental health clients who are ready to live independently but cannot afford the expenses. This year, the agency is assisting nine Loudoun residents with housing.

"It's been essential to our capacity to take more people on the waiting list for housing in Loudoun County," Hines said. "United Way has been an essential part of human services in Loudoun County and remains so."

THE LOUDOUN UNITED WAY provides 25 percent of the funding needed by the Loudoun Volunteer Caregivers, an interfaith organization that helps 135 frail, elderly and disabled adults maintain independent living with transportation, grocery shopping services and friendly visiting.

"They support the small local agency in addition to the large national ones. They also promote the agencies," said Nancy Sutton, executive director of Loudoun Volunteer Caregivers, about the United Way. "They're giving us a chance to get our name known."

The funds Loudoun United Way collects are processed at the United Way of the National Capital Area, which also includes the United Ways for Alexandria, Arlington, the District of Columbia, Fairfax-Falls Church, Montgomery, Prince George and Prince William. Nearly 1,100 participating agencies and organizations receive the funding. They are required to submit applications on an annual basis and meet certain criteria, including having a board of directors, regular board meetings, annual audits and an overhead of less than 25 percent. Overhead for the Loudoun United Way is 8.7 percent, Gray said.

The capital area United Way was accused this year of mismanagement and misuse of funds and hired an outside auditor to check the agency's records.

"I hope the public would realize at this point it's allegations," Gray said.