KENNETT SQUARE—During the pandemic, many local businesses were able to stay afloat thank to financial support fro the United Way of Southern Chester County, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary.
“Over the last 30 years alone we have given out over $20 million to help those in need in our community," said Carrie Freeman, CEO of United Way of Southern Chester County. "It’s hard to imagine what Southern Chester County would look like today had it not been for UWSCC.”
Over the years, UWSCC has also provided critical initial support, or seed money, to help start nonprofits. These include the Kennett Food Cupboard, then a satellite of Kennett Area Community Service in1998; the Adult Literacy Program at the Kennett Library in1995; After-the-Bell in 1999; and Family Promise of Southern Chester County in 2015.
“When we see a need in the community that no one is meeting, we collaborate, facilitate conversations, make connections, and provide resources to help fill that gap,” Freeman said.
To date, LaComunidad Hispana in Kennett Square, which provides critical resources to those tinkering on the fringe of poverty, the most financial help, donating more than $2.6 million in the past 32 years. Right behind is Tick Tock Early Learning Center in Avondale, which provides subsidized education and free meals to families living below the poverty line. That organization has received more than $2.4 million in the past 32 years.
The United Way of Southern Chester County has donated $613,886 to Crime Victims Center of Chester County, more than $1 million to Family Service of Chester County, $1.9 million to Kennett Area Community Service, more than $1 million to Kennett Area Senior Center, $2.4 million to Tick Tock Early Learning Center, $801,973 to Adult Literacy Program in Kennett Square, $613,552 to Kennett Middle's After The Bell, $789,206 to Domestic Violence Center of Chester County, $1.3 million to Oxford Neighborhood Service Center, $207.055 to Oxford Area Senior Center and $1.3 million to The Garage and Youth Center in Kennett and West Grove.
The Garage in West Grove is another nonprofit that has benefited from United Way of Soutern
Chester County. The Garage utilizes hundreds of volunteers to help mentor students. In 2009, with a plan to expand, the Garage needed $30,000 necessary to get the project off the ground, United Way of Southern Chester County responded.
UWSCC’s roots can be traced back to an organizational meeting in Kennett Square’s American Legion Hall in August 1944—as the Allied forces were nearing the end of their march from Normandy to Paris. Nine days after the end of World War II, at a meeting held on Sept. 11, 1945, various charitable organizations in the Kennett area joined forces to form a cooperative association called the Community Chest.
Seventy-five years later, after a few name changes and after incorporating several area organizations including the Avon Grove and Oxford United Ways, what began as the Community Chest is now UWSCC.
“Today, UWSCC funds crisis intervention, health, and education programs from Chadds Ford south to Nottingham,” Freeman said.
The core concept has always been that local businesses and citizens can best help neighbors in need by donating to a single organization that knows the community, its nonprofits, and its needs so well that it can allocate those funds most effectively where and when they’re needed.
The theme of the Community Chest’s first fundraising campaign, in 1945,was “The most you can give is the least you can do.” Although today’s theme is “Live Here, Give Here, Stays Here,” Freeman says the original tag line still resonates with the mission and goals of UWSCC to inspire community generosity to meet local needs. That first campaign raised $29,789.73 in pledges.
In 2001, the traditional kick-off event for the annual campaign on September 11th was delayed. In the midst of the nation’s heartache and turmoil that year, UWSCC raised $1,000,000 for the first time—a “million-dollar millennium.”
Today, UWSCC raises and gives away more than a million dollars annually.
Part of the secret of UWSCC’s resilience, Freeman said, has been its ability to change and evolve with the community it serves. After a nationwide name change to “Community Chest Red Feather” in 1947, red feather thermometers could be seen in over a thousand town squares, tracking incoming donations with red paint. Over the years, workplace giving replaced door-to-door canvassing, and major direct-mail campaigns and UWSCC’s signature and perennially popular Kennett Chocolate Lovers Festival replaced road rallies and pasta dinner fundraisers.
The roster of hundreds of board and committee leaders over the years also reads like a who’s who of men and women who have had a huge impact on the community, from Genesis HealthCare founder Michael Walker to Monroe Nute, Leonard Kanofsky, Charlie Kramer, A. Duer Pierce, Larry Bosley, Leon Spencer, Jamie Blaine, Eva Verplanck, David Woods, Sharon Parker, and Judge Daniel Maisano. All of these hundreds of volunteers have served and shaped the strategy of UWSCC to respond to changing circumstances without losing sight of the organization’s fundamental vision.
It was 1952 when Mrs. Lyle T. Johnston was elected as the first woman president of the Community Chest. She was an electrical engineer and very involved in Girl Scouts, but her first name is unknown because married women in the 1950s were publicly known only by their married names.
In 1977, Sybil S. Curtin was elected board president and Luci M. Shoemaker became administrator, working for $5 an hour at a time when minimum wage was $2.30. At the national level, former Peace Corps director Elaine Chao became CEO in 1993 and helped to rebuild the national United Way after a period of scandal following the conviction of former United Way of America CEO William Aramony on charges of fraud. In 1997, Cecy Glenn was named Executive Director of what was then called United Way of the Kennett Area. She proved, Freeman says, “to be a fundraising marvel,” and Freeman stepped into her shoes to become the third CEO in UWSCC’s history when Glenn retired in 2003.
"The history of UWSCC and its partner agencies is an integral part of the history of our community, and it tells a story of resilience, forward thinking, and sacrificial generosity," Freeman said. Freeman said she is focused on reaching United Way's most ambitious fundraising goal yet in order to fully fund and support agencies in time of a pandemic.
To donate to United Way of Chester County, go to https://www.unitedwayscc.org/give. In honor of their 75th Anniversary, UWSCC is offering a raffle to win a year of free groceries and a $75,000 Board Challenge Match for new leadership donors. To learn more about these giving incentives,go to https://www.unitedwayscc.org/giving-incentives.