Who We Are
United Way is your trusted, approachable, and reliable resource in the community.
For nearly 100 years, we have brought together the financial resources of donors, the passion of community volunteers, the expertise of community partners, and the dedication of the United Way staff to create change in our community. Together we devise solutions, monitor our combined efforts, and publicly report our shared progress at the system, community, and individual levels. We remain a non-partisan organization where conversations can happen in a safe space, and finding common ground is our goal. We provide outlets for concerns, connections to diverse leadership and expertise, and work to keep a pulse on the needs and gaps in our community.
To advance the education, economic mobility, and health of our community by mobilizing resources, people, and organizations.
An equitable Lancaster County where every individual has an opportunity to succeed, and the entire community thrives as a result.
We will work together with others toward a common goal.
We will treat everyone with respect and empathy.
We will use our collective knowledge, skills, confidence and authority to be an agent for change.
We will take action to create ideas and execute them.
We will honor our commitments and own our actions.
We will appreciate diverse perspectives, treat all ideas as valuable, have honest, open dialogue, and provide opportunities for all voices to be heard.
Looking Back on 100 Years of Caring
We trace our history in Lancaster to 1925, but the seeds of our organization were planted much earlier.
A Desire to Help Others
The practice of giving to others dates back thousands of years. The concept of charity is deeply rooted in religious tradition, but until the late 1800s it was practiced primarily on an individual basis. However, much of that changed when American society began to move from farms to cities, and the problems faced by that society grew in size and complexity.
The year was 1887, and a priest, a rabbi and two preachers met in Denver, Colorado to develop a systemic approach to giving, and providing charity at a higher level. Joining forces, they launched one of the nation’s first combined fundraising campaigns, generating $21,700–a large sum then–that was allocated to ten local health and welfare agencies. This was the beginning of United Way, one of America’s most remarkable charitable organizations.
More than a century later, United Way has become the principal mechanism through which people can be fully involved, directly and personally, in improving the quality of life in their community.
Sowing the seeds in Lancaster County
The organization that we now know as United Way of Lancaster County was officially born in 1925. The then Welfare Federation of Lancaster recognized the need for an organization that could coordinate, maintain and finance the human service agencies throughout the county. The first official campaign of the Welfare Federation of Lancaster began in the fall of 1925. Twelve organizations were represented in the initial fundraising effort, and together they raised $197,794.
Four years after the founding of the Welfare Federation, Lancaster County faced many difficulties with the start of the Great Depression. The Welfare Federation worked closely with city and county agencies in order to meet the ever-expanding needs of the community. The Community Service Association opened an emergency warehouse for the distribution of food and clothing, and more than 60 tons of food were collected by the American Red Cross and given to those in need.
In 1941, the Federation recommended to the Chamber of Commerce that a War Chest be established. A joint drive with the War Relief forces in 1943 raised half a million dollars. With the conclusion of World War II, the fund was disbanded and the Federation again focused on campaigning for its agencies. The following year, 1947, brought a new era and a new name for the Welfare Federation, and the Lancaster County Community Chest was formed.
Meeting the Challenge of Change
In 1959, Lancaster County had its first million dollar campaign, with contributions of $1,026,716. There were an impressive 24 agencies involved, including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Lancaster Recreation Association, YMCA, Boys Club, Jewish Community Center, U.S.O., Lancaster County Community Council, YWCA, Crispus Attucks, Family and Children’s Service, Lancaster Day Nursery, Shelter Home for Girls, Social Service Exchange, Salvation Army, Association for the Blind, Hearing Conservation Center, Crippled Children’s Society, Visiting Nurses Association, Guidance Clinic, Red Cross and three Lancaster County Hospitals–St. Joseph’s, Lancaster General, and Lancaster Osteopathic.
The 1960s brought elaborate United Way campaign kick-offs with street fairs, parades, Miss United Fund contests and parties in area parks. It was also during this time that United Way of Lancaster moved to their location at 630 Janet Avenue. In early 1960, a full city block of land was deeded by the Tuberculosis and Health Society to the Health and Welfare Foundation for $1. The location was ideal, as it was readily accessible to all residents of Lancaster County, and large enough to accommodate future expansion. By June of 1961, it was up and running.
The center was the first of its kind in the nation, combining both treatment and administrative facilities under one roof. The original tenants included the Community Chest (now United Way), Tuberculosis Society, Boy Scouts, Easter Seal Society, Hearing Center, Visiting Nurse Association, Mental Health Association, Guidance Clinic, Family and Children’s Service and the Community Council.
As the center expanded, donations and gifts also grew. Campaign themes during these years reflected the overall sentiment of the nation. 1961: Good Things Happen When You Give; 1965: It’s Your World, Too; 1970: Because You Care, SHARE; and 1971: Let The Sunshine In. The campaign of 1972, People Helping People, raised a total of $1,666,434 for Lancaster County residents in need, and marked the largest fundraising total to date. 1972 also marked the retirement of long-time Executive Director, Ken Shelley, and the hiring of Ernie Tobin, who would go on to serve until 1981.
January 1, 1973 marked an important day in history, as the Community Chest and Community Council merged to form United Way. With this collaboration, United Way was able to broaden the base of its services across the county. The forty-eight year old organization continued to be deeply involved in fundraising, but now also took on active roles in agency relations and community planning. The significance of this change made a difference in the lives of so many residents of Lancaster County, and continues to make a positive impact to this day.
Stepping Towards the Future
1975 marked the Golden Anniversary of United Way in Lancaster County–Fifty Years of People Helping People. Continuing its expansion in response to changing human service needs, it grew to have forty-four agencies under the United Way umbrella by 1979.
The early ‘80s brought several milestones for United Way. The first $3 million campaign was attained in 1980, with a whopping $4.2 million raised in 1985. As that year came to a close, a new Venture Grant program awarded $33,000 to eight different human service agencies in the county, and an extensive evaluation of the organization was also completed.
The slowing economy did not hinder the 1986 campaign, and a record $4.6 million was raised. This year also marked the retirement of Executive Director Gilda H. Markoski, and the new leadership of President Susan C. Eckert. The late 1980s brought about some exciting changes: the first Community Needs Assessment report was released; United Way merged with Lancaster Information Center (LINC); and a joyful celebration of United Way’s National Centennial. We also became one of the first United Way organizations in the nation to respond to the AIDS crisis, committing $25,000 to AIDS-related programs in Lancaster County.
Donor Choice was initiated in the 1990 campaign, United Way: It Brings Out the Best In All of Us. This program allowed the organization to honor its donors’ desires to have control over their gifts. The early ‘90s also introduced the Annual Day of Caring, bringing together more than 350 volunteers to work on projects that benefited United Way agencies and the people they serve. It was also the beginning of Super Saturday, a day-long effort of bringing volunteers to meet with agency representatives. Together they worked to brainstorm ideas of how to best allocate funds to meet the pressing needs of the people of Lancaster County.
While controversy erupted in 1992 with charges of mismanagement at United Way of America, our volunteers acted quickly to protect the interests of Lancaster County. We continued to operate with the same high standards that we had maintained over our sixty-seven year history. The Lancaster’s Promise Neighborhood initiative highlighted the end of the century, and The House that Baxter Built, (record-breaking $7 million and $8 million campaigns), helped us look towards the new Millennium with hope and excitement.
Year 2000 again showed that our community is incredibly generous. More than $8.5 million was raised, resulting in total investments of over $160,000,000 since our inception in 1925. Much has changed in Lancaster in the last 75 years, but one thing remains unchanged–the deep caring that its community, neighbors, co-workers, friends and family members show for one another, especially in times of need. Thank you Lancaster County for helping us celebrate 75 Years of Caring–it’s all because of YOU!
A Legacy in Action
The early 2000s brought about some exciting new additions to United Way of Lancaster’s work in the community. The Women’s Leadership Council (WLC) was established in 2005, and it united more than 2,200 women leaders across the country in a spirit of professional and personal collaboration for change. This diverse and dynamic group has continued to grow, making it the third largest organization of its kind in the country!
In 2007, the newly developed Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program gave low to moderate-income working families the opportunity to work with volunteers who helped them complete electronic federal and state tax returns at no cost.
2008 was a banner year for United Way of Lancaster County, as local resident Elva Boyd Wilson became the first Lancaster resident to join the national Million Dollar Roundtable, with her historic one million dollar commitment.
Additionally, in 2008 Lancaster County implemented a ten-year plan to eliminate homelessness. As part of this plan, our Heading Home initiative expanded to become the Lancaster Coalition to End Homelessness: an independent collaboration of nonprofit agencies, faith-based organizations, government agencies, and volunteers dedicated to putting the plan into action. This work has evolved into a coalition of 148 organizations, government entities and volunteers. The power of these partners working together on a mutual community goal has had a huge impact on eliminating homelessness for veterans, and has leveraged a federal government investment of $2.5 million in the ten-year plan.
The Day of Caring in 2010 was hosted over two days, in order to allow more companies and volunteers to participate. More than 100 volunteers worked on 30 projects on Friday, and more than 2,500 volunteers (representing 92 local businesses and civic groups) completed 120 projects throughout Lancaster County on Saturday morning.
In 2011, LINC was awarded a contract by the Pennsylvania 211 Collaborative to become the Call Center for seven counties in eastern Pennsylvania, thanks to a strong record of professional service in Lancaster County. The Circle of Honor was also established in 2011, as a way to applaud businesses that truly support United Way’s mission. Inclusion in this Circle of Honor recognizes the quality of workplace campaigns, employee support of and participation in United Way activities, and other non-monetary contributions.
During its seventh year in 2012, the Women’s Leadership Council amazingly surpassed the one million dollar mark, giving and leveraging $1,059,965 since 2005! And after 25 years of dedicated service, Susan Eckert retired as president of United Way of Lancaster in January 2012. Patrick Jinks then took the reins as CEO from 2012-2014.
Dr. Carol Phillips stepped in as Interim CEO from 2014-2015, until Sue Suter moved from her position as CEO of United Way of South Mississippi to take on the role of CEO at the United Way of Lancaster in January 2015.
Collective Impact also started in 2015, when United Way invested $2.85 million in their first 17 Community Impact Partnerships. This involved more than 100 different nonprofit agencies, health care providers, schools, faith-based groups, businesses and government agencies. The Women’s Leadership Council made a lead gift that enabled the purchase of CaseWorthy client management software. This important tool began serving as a single point of entry for clients at any of our Community Impact Partner locations.
A big update to the United Way’s 2-1-1 service came in 2016, allowing users to access the information and referral service via text. And in 2017, a new screening tool was put in place to help measure kindergarten readiness. All 16 districts in Lancaster county began using this one standardized tool, making it easier to accurately assess student needs. And although the 2018 round of funding had fewer Collective Impact Partnerships, the number of organizations involved grew to more than 300!
In 2019, United Way of Lancaster County continued to make great strides, with the VITA program having a record year. Over 11,000 tax returns were prepared during the 2019 tax season, saving residents over $3 million in tax preparation fees, and putting more than $14 million in tax refunds back in their pockets. And, after several years of strategic planning, the Women’s Leadership Council (WLC), now known as Women United, strategically planned and implemented their new grant process. Their first vote using the new process was held in 2019 at Zoetropolis Cinema House in downtown Lancaster.
April 2019 saw a big move for United Way of Lancaster County, as the organization sold the building that housed it and moved to their current location on Harrington Drive. 2019 was also the last year of Sue Suter’s tenure as CEO. Kevin Ressler left his role as CEO at Meals on Wheels of Lancaster to enthusiastically take on the job at United Way of Lancaster County in January 2020.
When COVID-19 arrived in Lancaster County in 2020, our community immediately united to support neighbors, friends, and families affected by the crisis. The Lancaster Cares COVID-19 Response Fund was launched to ensure people in our community had food, shelter, and support for their emerging needs. With schools and businesses shuttered to keep people safe, and thousands of people filing for unemployment, we were all facing an uncertain future. But in the midst of the uncertainty, one true Lancaster quality shone brightly: the extraordinary generosity of the community. Lancaster Cares was formed by the Lancaster County Community Foundation and United Way of Lancaster County, with a lead gift of $250,000 from the Community Foundation. Since then, more than 600 people have given nearly $900,000 to ensure that their neighbors could address the financial challenges faced during the pandemic.
In January 2021, United Way of Lancaster County launched Project SOS (Share Our Stimulus), a community-generated fund to redistribute monies to individuals and families financially impacted by COVID-19. During a period of economic instability, many families suffered loss of income and support while, at the same time, other community members received stimulus funds that they did not need and instead wished to donate! United Way stepped up to meet the needs of struggling families by using the ALICE framework to qualify applicants and distribute the community donations. Within 34 days, 426 applications were received. After screening, 365 applications, (1,202 family members), were eligible and received a total of $167,500 in shared stimulus funds. Over several months, compassionate community members donated their stimulus checks, and even those who did not receive these funds still donated to help those financially affected by the pandemic. In addition, corporate sponsors contributed $50,000 to cover administrative costs so that every penny went to supporting our community members.
Also in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, United Way of Lancaster County joined the Steinman Foundation to form the Lancaster Partnership for Learning Equity. A remote summer learning program was built, and 600 students in grades K-8 from school districts throughout the county participated in a six-week virtual learning experience. Acknowledging the digital divide for low-income families, internet access and computer hardware were made available to those who otherwise would not be able to access it. And the best part of all? Students were able to keep the laptops if they maintained an attendance rate of 80% or better!
Launched in April 2020 as the community’s most comprehensive pandemic-centric information resource, One United Lancaster is an independent, nonpartisan digital news outlet founded and sponsored by United Way of Lancaster County. It has evolved into the go-to source for news about local nonprofit, government, and community driven causes.
In spring of 2021, United Way of Lancaster County converted its database to StratusLIVE, and gained a new online giving platform for all workplace campaigns. This modern, user-friendly site called “Give At Work” was successfully implemented, and is now used by 20 different companies of all sizes from various industries. This gave companies the option to personalize many of the site’s features including log-in choices, giving methods, designation options, and thank you messaging. Additionally, since the site connects directly to our database, pledges are quickly applied electronically, and donors are acknowledged promptly!
2022 saw the relaunching of Project Blueprint, whose goal is to train underrepresented community members and give them a seat at the decision-making table. This program also offers training to the organizations who want to address inequity at the administrative level, and be more authentically inclusive and welcoming to diverse board members. Together they can create policies that are truly representative of the diverse individuals they impact, and can create systemic change that allows all of our community members to thrive.