MATTOON -- Local business leaders joined forces in fall 1956 to establish a Mattoon United Welfare Fund to conduct combined fundraising for multiple charitable causes.
The United Welfare Fund subsequently conducted its first fundraising campaign in 1957 and has been supporting community organizations, such as the Salvation Army, ever since then. This nonprofit organization became known as United Way of Mattoon in 1974 and merged with the United Way of Eastern Coles County to become United Way of Coles County in 2001.
"We have put millions of dollars back into the community helping people," said Executive Director Carolyn Cloyd. "United Way of Coles County has been consistent at successfully funding their programs for 60 years."
United Way of Coles County has been celebrating the 60th anniversary of this first campaign as it conducts its 2017 campaign throughout October, with the goal of raising $265,000 to assist 35 organizations.
Cloyd said the United Welfare Fund set and met a goal of raising $76,102.30 in 1957. She said business leaders, since at least 1928, previously had held fund drives several time throughout each year to fill a "community chest" for local charities. The aim of the United Welfare Fund was to eliminate duplicate drives and reduce fundraising costs.
The United Way continues to provide a way for donors to help fund multiple organizations in their community by contributing to one fund drive, Cloyd said. The United Way also saves the community organizations from having to conduct big fundraising campaigns to meet all their needs, she said. Cloyd added that the organizations can use the donated funding to help meet their state and federal matching grant obligations.
Cloyd also said United Way is a global name, but the Coles County program funding decisions are made by local volunteers who know the community. For example, she said the United Way's 14 board members know that Coles County has a high poverty rate and are familiar with the local organizations that help people in need.
Kelly Hardy, executive director of Mid-Illinois Big Brothers Big Sisters, said United Way has been helping fund her organization ever since its formation in 1975. She said United Way takes a fundraising burden off of her organization. Hardy said United Way also supports many other organizations that help the youths served by Big Brothers Big Sisters and their families.
"We are just very grateful for all the United Way does and the community support that the United Way has," Hardy said, adding that the United Way has a good reputation in the community.
Cloyd said United Way works behind the scenes, so it has relied over the decades on dedicated volunteers going out into the community and sharing the organization's message.
Drive Chair Carol Deeken said she has been volunteering for United Way for 25 years. She was part of the United Way board in 1993 when then President Lew Stiff started this organization's annual golf outing at Meadowview Golf Course. She said Stiff, who served with United Way for more than 40 years, helped to recruit a lot of golfers for this inaugural benefit.
"We had so many people golfing that we had to split it up. Half of the them golfed in the morning and the other half golfed in the afternoon," Deeken said of the outing.
Deeken said she has served as president, secretary and in other capacities on the United Way board over the years.
"I believe in it. I believe in all the causes that we support and the good things we have done in the community," Deeken said. "To me, that is important. I can help a lot of people by working with one agency."