Though it was a surprise, Andy Johnston is not taking his layoff from the Loudoun United Way office in Leesburg personally, he said.
"This was a finance decision. … The money’s just not there with some of the challenges we faced," said Johnston, the former assistant director for community services and now a volunteer at the Loudoun United Way office. He spoke on Friday one week after the United Way of the National Capital Area (UWNCA) cut 28 people, or one-third of staff at its eight regional offices. A total of 36 positions were let go.
Full-time employees Johnston and office manager Mary Groschan were included in the layoffs, leaving regional director Gray Wells as the only employee to serve the Loudoun region. The Slater Task Force chaired by Rodney Slater cut positions to reduce United Way’s operations by $2 million, following a slow fundraising year during an economic downturn and an internal shakeup of the organization. In fall 2002, the task force reviewed United Way’s operations to appease public criticism of its accounting procedures, publishing a report on Sept. 5.
The report, called "A Matter of Trust," recommended the UWNCA board of directors reduce the agency’s staffing from 90 to 60 employees, reduce the fundraising budget from $7.6 million to $4.5 million and restructure the organization, among other recommendations.
"Did I think it would be me? … I was a little shocked it was me," Johnston said. "They forewarned us in the fall. I knew it was a possibility. This board is trying to take the bull by the horns to get the agency moving in the right direction. Sometimes you have to make hard decisions to do that."
Fund-raising at the Loudoun United Way was slower than usual, but as Wells said, "The campaign’s not over yet. … I’m out there every day talking to more people, trying to raise more money."
THE UNITED WAY has until the end of the month to raise funds for the 2002 campaign, which in Loudoun has generated $340,000 so far, compared to $510,000 last year. The community service fund is Johnston’s main concern, since so far the grant fund has $72,000 in hand to distribute to local agencies compared to $453,000 the year before.
"Given the economy, I had volunteers tell me when we set our goal that it was too optimistic," said Wells, adding that setting a goal too high is better than setting one that is low and safe. "It bothers me we haven’t raised as much as last year."
Even so, the Loudoun United Way on a percentage basis raised the same amount of funds as any other region, Johnston said. "It’s a source of funding that’s hard to replace, [that of] payroll deductions. It’s access into the corporate workplace these agencies don’t have. When you’re helping the agencies, you’re helping people in need," he said.
Wells expects to need more volunteer support for the next campaign, which traditionally kicks off in September. "I’ll have to turn to them for more help. And the volunteers are stepping up," she said.
The Loudoun United Way has 40 core volunteers, including 15 volunteers who work on the campaigns and 25 regional council members who serve on the local United Way board. Johnston, who was laid off on Thursday, agreed to volunteer, though his focus on community development will be eliminated for now. He had helped develop programs to address identified needs, including starting the Loudoun Human Services Network, an advocacy agency, and working with Northern Virginia Family Services to establish a prescription program for the elderly and for those with low to moderate incomes.
"I believe in the mission here," Johnston said. "Even though they laid me off doesn’t mean I do not believe in United Way and the mission. I definitely do."
WELLS’ FOCUS on fundraising will remain the same with the addition of some administrative work, since Groschan was laid off. Wells also may be tasked with looking for free office space to house the Loudoun United Way, but is waiting until she is given a deadline to discontinue leasing space on South King Street. "We actually have received several offers," she said.
Wells expects the Loudoun United Way to "survive." "United Way is a valuable asset to the community. There just isn’t anybody who goes in and can raise money through employee payrolls," she said. "I hope people will see the changes the board made … and continue to support us or rejoin us if they were not with us last year."
Carol Jameson expressed her support of what United Way has done for Northern Virginia Family Services (NVFS), which has an office in Sterling.
"We are very pleased with the responsiveness of the United Way of the National Capital Area to the community’s concern about United Way in general. We’re very appreciative of the support they’re providing in trying to raise funding," said Jameson, director of community services. "We have a number of programs we provide to Loudoun residents through United Way funding. … A decrease in funding may mean we will be able to serve fewer clients."
Besides funding the prescription program, United Way funding helps NVFS provide health care access for low-income children, sliding scale mental health counseling for low-income residents and conflict resolution training for middle school students. "We will be hoping for the best but we know the donations are significantly down," Jameson said, adding, "We just are so appreciative of the work that has been done by Andy and the staff in supporting the non-profits and raising awareness of human service needs in Loudoun County."
VICE-PRESIDENT of Messier Services America David Miller recognized the human service need in the local area and the effort the National Capital Area United Way undertook to replace the agency’s CEO and board of directors. Messier Services America, which has an office in Sterling and overhauls landing gear and hydraulics for airplanes, encouraged its 150 employees to donate to the United Way and matching employee donations doubling last year’s contributions.
"In times like this, the need for the services they provide is greater than at other times. Unfortunately people are cutting back," Miller said, adding that other charities besides United Way have seen contributions decrease. "What we have is a community crisis, a major falloff at a time when the community needs the charities."
A cut in United Way funding for Loudoun Volunteer Caregivers means the agency will not be able to expand services and programs. Loudoun Volunteer Caregivers, which currently assists frail elderly and disabled adults maintain independent living, would like to also assist "people we are not helping in Loudoun County who have unmet needs," said Nancy Sutton, executive director. "We would like to provide more assisted transportation to other segments of the population and expand our pet therapy program."
Sutton praised the United Way for "helping the nonprofits work together. They provide a central location to achieve that collaboration. When nonprofits are working together they are not duplicating services," she said.