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Kids Club participants plant bean seeds in their raised garden beds at Riveria Activity Center as they receive hands-on lessons about gardens and plants Monday. Kids Club is one of the many organizations in the area supported through money raised by the United Way of Eastern Oregon, which is celebrating six decades of existence. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
Its name has changed three times over the past six decades, but the mission of United Way of Eastern Oregon remains the same — to be a champion for the community.
Today, this champion is taking on a new challenge.
United Way of Eastern Oregon is launching what is believed to be its first-ever summer fundraising drive. The one-time campaign will supplement the annual United Way of Eastern Oregon fall fundraising drive. United Way leaders hope to raise $60,000 this summer.
“We’ve had a good response so far. I believe we can make our goal,” said Elena Nightingale, executive director of United Way of Eastern Oregon, which serves Union and Baker counties.
Karyl Kramer, the local United Way board president, is also optimistic.
“I’ve never had a board as excited about a campaign as the one we have now,” said Kramer, who lives in La Grande and has been a member of the United Way board for about a decade.
The summer campaign’s theme is “Stand Up and be Counted” and its name is “60-60.” The name indicates that people are being encouraged to make contributions of at least $60 and that United Way of Eastern Oregon has been operating about six decades.
United Way was known as Community Chest when it was created in Union County around 1950. Community Chest campaigns raised close to $10,000 a year in the early 1950s, according to articles in the old La Grande newspaper, The Eastern Oregon Review.
The name Community Chest was changed to United Way of Union County in 1963 and in 2008 its present title of United Way of Eastern Oregon was adopted. The 2008 name change was made after Baker County was added to the organization’s service area.
This year’s one-time summer campaign is needed because fundraising for United Way of Eastern Oregon has been down in recent years because of the poor economy and competition from other nonprofit organizations.
“It has been hard for us to have a robust campaign,” Kramer said.
Competition from nonprofit organizations is increasing because there are many more than there once were.
“There is a lot more competition for charitable giving,” Kramer said.
Dawn Roe, also a board member and United Way’s former executive director, agrees.
“There are a lot more non-profits than there used to be and there are only so many philanthropic dollars for them,” Roe said.
Roe stressed that the additional nonprofits today all support very worthy causes.
All money United Way of Eastern Oregon raises is given to help organizations and agencies in the county the donations came from. Organizations have to apply for funding before they can receive it.
United Way of Eastern Oregon receives no outside funding, which may be news to some people because many people know of United Way because of the television commercials for it featuring players from the National Football League. The commercials have appeared on national NFL game broadcasts for decades. The commercials reflect the NFL’s support of United Way but may lead some to think that the organization’s chapters are supported by outside funding.
“Because of its connection to the NFL, people think it is a national organization. But it is really a local organization,” said Union County Sheriff Boyd Rasmussen, the chair of the United Way of Eastern Oregon fall fundraising campaign.
All United Way chapters have their own bylaws, and the bylaws of United Way of Eastern Oregon state the money it raises can only go to human service agencies.
These agencies, Roe said, fill vital niches.
“They are all very important for the well being of our community,’’ said Roe, who earlier served as the local executive director of United Way for at least two decades.
United Way of Eastern Oregon has easily raised more than $1 million during its six decades of existence.
“We do not send our money anywhere. We are completely autonomous,” Nightingale said.