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United Way Extends Drive

United Way agencies may face "major crisis."

Andy Johnston of the Loudoun United Way is not about to give up. He has 40 member agencies to think of even if the economy is lagging and the National Capital Area office has had a shakeup.

"The bad press we experienced over the last year combined with the sluggish economy have resulted in a greatly reduced United Way campaign," said Johnston, assistant director for community services, at the Board of Supervisors meeting last week.

The Loudoun United Way raised $491,000 for the 2001 campaign, compared to $330,000 for the 2002 campaign, which has been extended to March of this year in hopes of generating more funds. The official campaign lasts from September to December, though the United Way accepts donations year round to help support non-profit agencies.

So far, the Loudoun United Way’s 2002 campaign has fallen 36 percent below the agency’s original $510,000 goal — modified to $400,000 — though this does not have Johnston as worried as the funding shortfall for the Loudoun Community Services Fund. The Loudoun United Way distributed $453,000 to 29 Loudoun agencies last year through the competitive grants process, compared to $62,000 generated so far this year. Even if United Way ends up collecting $100,000, the agency will face a 78 percent decrease in the grant funds, which help "troubled youth, homebound elderly … the hungry and homeless, and those with physical and mental impairments," Johnston said. "Unless there is a major 11th hour infusion, our agencies face a major crisis in the 2003-04 fiscal year."

THE MONEY Loudoun United Way collects for the Community Services Fund remains in Loudoun, while the money collected for the general campaign is distributed according to the donors’ discretion to agencies within or outside of the county. Last year, Loudoun donors designated $195,000 to the Community Services Fund, coupled with $258,000 in unrestricted monies. Donations that are left undesignated are distributed to the eight regional United Ways according to the population level and the needs of the areas they serve.

"United Ways all over have struggled because of the economy," Johnston said. "Coupled with that, … the public had concerns with our leadership. So there is a trust factor there. People want to believe in United Way, but we have to prove ourselves to them."

In the meantime, the agencies receiving United Way funds will be the ones impacted, possibly through reduced or eliminated services or cuts to staff, Johnston said.

"We’re all hurting. I don’t know of any agencies unscathed from this," said Kellie Doyle, executive director of the Loudoun Literacy Council, which is based in Leesburg. "We’re all looking at losing half of our funding from United Way. That’s what we’ve been told."

The Loudoun United Way provides the Loudoun Literacy Council with 20 percent of its overall budget and 30 percent of the adult education budget, which Doyle said is harder to raise funds to support than the children’s literacy programs. "If we’re not collecting money that pays for key things, unless we find other [funding sources], it could hurt us and we could have to cut back on hours," she said.

At the Loudoun Volunteer Financial Council, a cut in United Way funding may result in the loss of a part-time position, said Beverly Samuel, senior extension agent for family and consumer sciences. The United Way provided the council with a $6,000 grant, used to partially fund the salary of an administrative assistant who helps with client intake.

"It’s a difficult time to be decreasing our funding when we need an increase to serve more families," Samuel said, adding that with company layoffs and a lagging economy, the need for financial counseling has increased. "We see people of all income levels affected by the economy right now."

The same situation could occur at Good Shepherd Alliance (GSA), Inc., based in Sterling. The homeless ministry funded a part-time case manager through a $10,000 United Way grant the agency received in 2002. "We might lose one person. At least we have a half-year to work on that," said Joyce Trickett, chairman of the GSA board. "We’ll have to do our own grants now."

A UNITED WAY funding cut for Every Citizen Has Opportunities (ECHO) may mean that fewer adults with disabilities can receive transportation, on-the-job vocational training and other ECHO services. Last year, ECHO received $62,000 from United Way to assist four to five residents a day who do not meet the criteria for county, state and Medicaid assistance.

"We’re not expecting to get more than half of what we’re getting," said Bill Haney, CEO of ECHO in Leesburg.

The ECHO program, which daily serves 70 people who receive the outside assistance, will continue as is. "We would not anticipate laying off staff or making any changes in the program," Haney said.

ECHO and United Way’s other member agencies will find out this spring or summer the actual amount they will receive. The donations and grants collected during the 2002 campaign will be distributed for the 2004 fiscal year, which extends from July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2004. The designated donations will be distributed beginning in April and the grants in July, both on a monthly basis. Ninety percent of the monies United Way collects are given directly to the agencies, with less than 10 percent supporting operations.

"There are people out there, past United Way donors, who feel let down and who will not give this year," Johnston said. "To those people we want to say, ‘Don’t take out your frustrations with this United Way on these small and very deserving local organizations.’ If people cannot give through the United Way, well, OK, we have to live with that, but still give to the agencies and the people [we] serve."

Doyle said about the United Way of the National Capital Area, "It doesn’t hurt them as much as the agencies out in the field doing the work. We’re the ones having our budgets cut."

Johnston still has faith, though. "Our local community believes in this local United Way for the most part. We run a really tight operation here," he said. "People who know us believe in us."

The United Way of the National Capital Area has eight regional offices, five of which are in Virginia in Loudoun County, Prince William County, Fairfax/ Falls Church, Arlington and Alexandria. Two of the regional offices are in Maryland in Montgomery and Prince Georgia’s counties and one is in Washington, D.C.