United Way: A local organization doing a world of good

At a time of year when many people are busy checking off holiday shopping lists, Tiffin-Seneca United Way is keenly focused on community members in need. The 2018 United Way campaign is underway, raising funding for local agencies that provide support to hundreds of Seneca County residents throughout the year.

The mission of the United Way is “to improve the lives of the residents of Seneca County and to encourage our community to care for one another.” The organization, which partners with health and human service community support agencies in the areas of health, education, income stability and safety net services, has been serving our community and making a difference since 1943.

According to Executive Director Patricia DeMonte, “We work both with agencies that provide services and individuals facing challenges in life. Through our 21 partner agencies, we provide a variety of services from counseling to childcare, senior services, emergency services, food, clothing, shelter, utilities, you name it.”

Tiffin-Seneca United Way is a lean organization with just three paid staff members — Executive Director DeMonte, an office manager and a program coordinator for First Call for Help — and a group of volunteers. First Call for Help is a program through which residents who need assistance can call the Tiffin-Seneca United Way for information and referrals to various local agencies that can provide support services.

United Way agencies often provide practical assistance in times of overwhelming crisis. When a local family discovered the mother, in her early 30’s, had cancer, Financial Assistance for Cancer Treatment of Seneca County provided gas cards to help with getting to and from her many medical appointments. When she became unable to work and her husband needed to take off from his own job to care for her, First Call for Help was able to assist with rent, and The Salvation Army stepped in to help with utility payments.

When the mother passed away, Community Hospice Care helped her husband with grief counseling and Tiffin-Seneca Child Care Center provided financial assistance so his children would be in a safe, caring place when he returned to work.

In the case of ongoing medical treatments such as dialysis that require frequent, lengthy medical appointments, Seneca-Crawford Area Transportation is a literal lifesaver, regularly taking patients to and home from treatment.

DeMonte says, “SCAT has been a huge benefit for many people, not just with medical appointments, but also taking people, with limited mobility, to and from work, the grocery store, a grandchild’s birthday party, or the funeral of a loved one. If you’re disabled or don’t have a vehicle, transportation can be costly. Individuals who are unable to pay can apply for United Way scholarship dollars to be transported to the many appointments or places they need to go.”

Divorce never is easy, but for children caught up in parental disagreements, it can be especially stressful. United Way’s agency Patchworks House provides family support, counseling and parenting classes, and a safe, friendly place for children going through parent exchanges. Volunteers play with and supervise kids, communicating important information regarding medications, sports events, etc., from one parent to the other, and alleviating the risk of potentially volatile interactions. DeMonte calls Patchworks House, “a beautiful family-oriented organization.”

Homelessness is not an obviously evident problem in Seneca County, but according to DeMonte, it is a real challenge here.

“We have a lot of people in Seneca County who are homeless, something I don’t think the community realizes,” she says. “People lose their incomes because they’ve lost their jobs, or they have medical bills piling up, or whatever the reason is, and they don’t know where to go. Sometimes they’re sleeping in their cars or abandoned buildings. I’ve had more than one person come in and tell us that they’ve laid down cardboard in a dumpster, closed the lid, and slept in it, because it was a safe place for them to be, where animals or people couldn’t hurt them. It’s shocking to hear, but it happens.”

DeMonte says that to address the issue of homelessness in the local community, a task force has been formed to help those struggling to find a place to live. Comprised of faith-based representatives, non-profit organizations, government entities, and local businesses, the task force is looking at trying to open an emergency shelter in Tiffin.

Though the Morrison House it is not a United Way agency, the United Way was instrumental in getting it started. A transitional housing facility that helps people who are ready to make a change in their lives, Morrison House provides a safe place to stay, food and clothing for residents while they are there. It also offers counseling and case management help, assessing each person’s needs and making plans to get them back on track. A strong emphasis is placed on finding employment, so residents can begin to start saving money, transitioning out of Morrison House, getting into their own apartments and back on their feet.

Another important United Way program, one that impacts hundreds of local families, is run by Tiffin Community YMCA. Teachers at Tiffin City Schools expressed concern that on the weekends, many children were going without enough food. In response, the YMCA approached United Way with a plan to use the funds they received from United Way to fight food insecurity in local kids.

A backpack food program was started, with teachers identifying children who did not have enough food at home. Now, each week, over 500 children in Tiffin City Schools receive snacks and easy-to-prepare foods, assembled by volunteers at the YMCA, and delivered to each child’s classroom. For families struggling financially, the impact of this program is profound.

United Way Worldwide was formed in 1876 in Denver by five people who decided to join forces to raise funds and help their community. That first year the group, a priest, two ministers, a rabbi, and a wealthy socialite, raised over $21,000. That year, much of the money was used to mitigate the suffering of those who had traveled West hoping to strike it rich in the gold rush, and had instead found poverty and hunger.

What sets United Way apart from most other national service organizations is that each of the 1,800 United Ways in 41 countries focuses on the needs of their individual communities. Tiffin-Seneca United Way pays annual dues to United Way Worldwide, allowing the organization to offer assistance in the aftermath of natural disasters, wherever it is needed. In fact, United Way Worldwide provided local support after devastating tornadoes hit Seneca County in 2002.

However, the lion’s share of funds raised here are allocated to local partner agencies and used to meet the needs of local residents. As DeMonte explains, “What’s raised in Seneca County stays in Seneca County, unless the donor designates it to go elsewhere.”

The need is great and the cost of providing assistance can be daunting, though as DeMonte points out, “If everybody chips in a little, it grows. The amount we raise will grow, and we will be able to meet more needs.”

Tiffin-Seneca United Way’s current campaign goal is $500,000. This year’s campaign chair, Charles Ervin, is encouraging our community members to help us “continue the journey of hope,” by donating to United Way.

Donations are solicited from individuals within the community, small businesses and large corporations. Employees often choose to give through a payroll deduction each pay period, so that rather than giving a single gift of $50, an employee can choose to have $1 or $2 deducted from each pay, causing less financial strain, while still making a big impact when combined with other donations.

DeMonte’s message is simple: “If we work together collectively, we can raise more to help our agencies. That’s the point of the campaign. People are asked for donations every day, and we all have our favorite charities. But to give collectively allows the agencies we work with to spend more time in helping people, rather than on fundraising. They still have to fundraise, but working together we can reach so many more businesses and individuals, and do so much more to bring awareness of their organizations than they can by themselves.”

United Way’s annual campaign starts planning in May. In August and September, DeMonte and United Way volunteers begin reaching out to the community. The campaign then officially kicks off in October, with volunteers personally going to businesses to ask them for contributions. Additionally, DeMonte makes around 60-70 presentations to employees of local businesses and organizations, explaining what United Way does and how the money they contribute will be used. She is a big believer in the power of interpersonal contact.

“Face-to-face conversations are so much better than another letter added to a stack of requests we each receive,” she says. “By talking and sharing the good news of how their donation can impact lives right here in Seneca County, people are much more likely to give, advocate, or volunteer.”

Because United Way is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, donations are 100-percent tax deductible. And if a donor lives in Seneca County but works in another county, they can donate at their place of work and designate their donation back to Seneca County. The same goes for those who work here and live in another county.

The current annual campaign will end in March 2019, and the allocation process will begin in April. Each year, agencies must submit new applications, provide financial information and make presentations to a panel of United Way board members and volunteers, at which they share stories of how lives have been changed and the community has been impacted through their work. They also share the outcome of how they used the funds from last year. Once all the presentations have been given, a determination is made by the team of volunteers serving on the Allocation Committee, as to how the funds raised will be distributed.

DeMonte stresses that as executive director, she does not participate in the decision making, saying, “I don’t make the decisions as to how the money is going to be distributed; I just facilitate the process. It really lands on the shoulders of the volunteers to listen to the presentations and read the information provided. And the insight from the volunteers is just amazing, as they translate what they have read and heard into how much each agency should receive, based on where the greatest needs are and how lives have been impacted through their services.”

It is a responsibility they take seriously, DeMonte says. “We need to be accountable to our donors, so we need our agencies to be accountable to us and our community. It all comes back to our mission, improving the lives of the residents of Seneca County, and encouraging our community to care for one another.”

She continues, “To be successful, we need donors, we need volunteers, and we need advocates — people who will speak up for others, people who will give of their time and treasure and talents. The whole world would be a better place if people would just think of what they can do to help another person.”

Donors can make a one-time gift of cash or check to the United Way office at 201 S. Washington St., or mail it to the same address, in Tiffin, OH 44883. They also can go online and donate through the website, Tiffin-Seneca-UnitedWay.org,

If a donor wants to break up their gift, for example by giving a $100 annual donation in four $25 installments, they can contact the United Way office staff, which will send them monthly or quarterly reminders. Many employers offer payroll deductions, which allow small contributions each pay period to add up.

DeMonte says, “Every donation makes a difference. That’s the beauty of United Way. It’s not just one person making a large donation; it’s many people of all faiths, backgrounds, and economic levels, all of us coordinating and collaborating and contributing to improve lives and make a greater impact. Because of our generous, caring community, great things happen here, as we celebrate our 75th anniversary, and continue the journey of hope.”