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Local United Way enters a new era

Melinda Williams/SWT
United Way of Southwest Virginia CEO and President Travis Staton, from left, with Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce Treasurer Bill Cunningham, Pulaski County United Way founder Dr. Thomas Haller and former Pulaski County United Way Board of Directors Chairman Thomas Holsinger.

By MELINDA WILLIAMS

melinda@southwesttimes.com

Pulaski County United Way (PCUW) entered a new era Monday, merging with one of the Top 10 best United Ways organizations in the nation — United Way of Southwest Virginia (UWSV).

Travis Staton, president and chief executive officer of UWSV, says the county will benefit from the merger by becoming eligible for multiple initiatives or programs that immediately became effective with the merger. The region will benefit by growing its voice in Richmond.

“I’m confident this will bring long-term generational change for Pulaski,” Thomas Holsinger, former board chair of PCUW, said of the merger. The announcement was made Monday morning at Pulaski County Visitor’s Center in Dublin.

“I’ve been involved with United Way in some form the last 13 years; since moving to Pulaski County,” Holsinger said. He has chaired the board over the past year.

“During this time we’ve experienced a lot of change,” he said. “More importantly, we’ve had an opportunity to get to know our fellow Pulaski County residents even better. What became apparent to us and the rest of the board over the past several months was that we needed to do more — more capacity, more resources, more partnerships. New ways of leading change in our community.”

That’s where the merger comes in. Staton called it a “significant milestone for our region.” He said UWSV has been in the region for more than 50 years, but hasn’t always been as successful as it is today.

It was Charity Navigator that recognized the agency as a top 10 United Way nationwide. Charity Navigator is an agency that evaluates and ranks charities based on financial health, accountability and transparency. The rankings give donors a picture of how appropriately and efficiently contributions are used.

Staton said needs changed over the organization’s 50 years, so the board and staff “responded and shifted our work to meet those needs.

“For far too long things were not getting better and these needs were continuing to grow. So over the past decade United Way of Southwest Virginia has shifted its focus from treating symptoms to addressing root causes,” Staton said. “We have moved from being recognized as a premiere fundraiser and distributor to an organization focused more on preventative efforts. This produces a greater return on the investment of the generous resources many of you provide.”

The organization also started taking a regional approach to addressing root causes of societal issues. UWSV now serves 15 counties and three cities. He says that has allowed the organization to leverage the region’s “strengths and collective assets” and create sustainable solutions for challenges facing tomorrow’s workforce.

Last year, he said, UWSV “shed new light on a population we call ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed),” he said. “The ALICE population represents those of us — men, women and families — who work hard and earn more than the official federal poverty level, but less than the cost of living.

“Right here in Dublin, more than 39 percent of our families cannot afford the basic cost of living. Combining that with another 15 percent living in poverty means 54 percent of our friends, family and neighbors struggle to make ends meet.”

Staton says the merger will increase UWSV’s ability to advocate for Southwest Virginia on issues facing our region. For example, he pointed out less than 6 percent of the state’s employment lives in Southwest Virginia

“It will ensure Southwest Virginia has a voice as we continue fighting to create lasting change … making our region the best place to live, work and raise a family,” he added.

By being able to “scale up” important programs in Pulaski County, as well as other parts of Southwest Virginia, the organization will be able to serve more people and influence greater social change.

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