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For more than 125 years, United Way has been evolving to meet the needs of the times.  

The worldwide movement traces its roots back to 1887 when a tireless volunteer, a priest, two ministers and a rabbi got together in Denver, Colorado. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but they didn't walk into a bar:  they recognized the need to work together in new ways to make their community a better place.

Yes, the tradition of working together for community impact began when Frances Wisebart Jacobs, the Rev. Myron W. Reed, Msgr. William J.O’Ryan, Dean H. Martyn Hart and Rabbi William S. Friedman joined together on what became the nation's first united campaign, benefitting 10 area health and welfare agencies. They created an organization to collect funds for local charities, coordinate relief services, counsel and refer clients to cooperating agencies, and make emergency assistance grants for cases that could not be referred. That first year, Denver raised $21,700 for the community’s greater good and created the beginnings of United Way.  

The organization we know today as United Way of Lancaster County was officially born here in 1925.  The Welfare Federation of Lancaster, as it was first known, recognized that a similar, great need existed in Lancaster County to coordinate, maintain, and finance our health and  human service agencies.

Our very first campaign was launched in the fall of 1925 under the volunteer direction of Dwight L. Armstrong, grandson of Thomas Armstrong, a founder of Armstrong Cork Company. That first campaign raised $197,794 for 12 local organizations.

By the late 1920’s, the Great Depression had descended on Lancaster County so the Welfare Federation was immediately engaged.  It worked closely with city and county agencies to meet the ever-growing needs of local residents.

The year 1947 found the Welfare Federation adopting the name of similar organizations across the country:  Community Chest of Lancaster County.  With our fundraising campaigns known as Red Feather campaigns, our funded agencies similarly were referred to as Red Feather agencies.

 In 1960, the Community Chest made a big move. Literally. We moved to our current location at 630 Janet Avenue when the Tuberculosis and Health Society deeded a full block of land to the Health and Welfare Foundation for $1. This prime location on the line between the City and Manheim Township was readily accessible to serve all of Lancaster County and large enough to accommodate future expansion.  The center was the first of its kind in the nation, combining both treatment and administrative facilities under one roof.

A big step in the evolution of today’s United Way came on January 1, 1973, when the Community Chest merged with the Community Council to form United Way of Lancaster County.  Like most United Ways across the country were doing, we  blended our health and human service fundraising role as  the Community Chest with that of the Community Council. Their role was as an agency planning organization that addressed  and sought to resolve community issues.

This unified purpose remains the core of our commitment:  to build a stronger Lancaster County by mobilizing the caring power of our community. That mission—to be a catalyst to improve lives—has never been more alive than it is today as we impactfully deploy donor investments and grants  to achieve these four bold goals by 2025:

  1. 100% of our children enter kindergarten ready to learn.

  2. 100% of students and adults obtain a post-secondary credential.

  3. Decrease individuals and families living in poverty by 50%.

  4. 100% of individuals, children, and families have a medical home.

We invite everyone to help us turn this vision into reality. Together, we can make great things happen in Lancaster County.