WATERVILLE — Her mother had substance abuse issues, skipped town and left her to fend for herself.

The teenager had no place to go but managed to survive by sleeping on a couch at a friend or relative’s house and then taking advantage of programs United Way of Mid-Maine helped to fund.

“She figured out how to get to school and stay in school and get the resources to graduate,” said Elizabeth Barron, chief executive officer of United Way of Mid-Maine. “She was excited at the opportunity to become a teacher. She wanted to go to Kennebec County Community College but needed her birth certificate and didn’t have one and didn’t know what town she was born in. Her outreach worker helped her track down the information she needed, and she was able to get Youth Homeless Initiative funds to get her birth certificate. The last I heard, she was doing OK.”

Barron was describing one of the many instances in which funds donated to the United Way help people in need. United Way has 21 partners and disperses those funds to 34 programs throughout northern Kennebec County, all of Somerset County and part of Waldo County. The programs, focusing on health, education and financial security, help not only homeless children, but also people needing dental work, volunteer hospice services, a warm meal or home heating oil delivered, or help learning how to read.

Elizabeth Barron, CEO of the United Way of Mid-Maine, in her office in Waterville on Monday, says the organization is struggling to meet its goal of $700,000.

But the United Way of Mid-Maine, based at 105 Kennedy Memorial Drive in Waterville, is struggling to meet its $700,000 fundraising goal this fiscal year, which runs July 1-June 30. So far, it has raised $490,000, according to Barron.

The organization raises about 70 percent of its funds through workplace campaigns. It goes into businesses and speaks to employees about ways they can donate, including through payroll deductions, and exactly what programs their contributions will fund. Those employees may choose a specific program to fund through their donations if they wish.

But workplace campaigns have been steadily falling off, according to Barron, who said other United Way organizations are experiencing the same issue, though the United Way in Augusta has been steadily growing its campaign and breaking goals. Although she could not pinpoint exactly why workplace donations are decreasing, Barron said some businesses have scheduling issues and can not always set aside a time to hold a United Way meeting. Instead, they provide employees with sign-up sheets for payroll deduction donations and that is not as effective as talking with employees in person.

“We also have strong individual giving, but what we have noticed is the number of donors has fallen off, but people who always give tend to continue to give more,” Barron said. “Fewer people are giving more to support programs.”

Sappi and MaineGeneral Health are among about 100 larger companies and smaller ones that do allow workplace campaigns between September and November.

The territory United Way of Mid-Maine serves is large, stretching from Vassalboro north to Jackman, including all of Somerset County and four towns in Waldo County.

“It’s a big territory, and it’s interesting to me to watch the renaissance I’m seeing here in Waterville and also in Unity and in Skowhegan and even way up 201,” Barron said. “There seems to be a lot of energy and enthusiasm and growth and focus on building and infrastructure.”

At the same time, she said, it is important to remind people living and working here that a network of support is important so everyone can succeed in terms of health, education and financial stability.

For the last few years, United Way has set a fundraising goal of $700, 000, but last year it collected only $560,000. Barron, who has had her job since 2014, emphasized that the funds raised in the community stay in the community.

“What we raise here stays here, and we are very blessed to have a lot of companies, businesses, allow us to come in and do workplace campaigns,” she said.

Companies wanting to have United Way go to their locations to speak to employees about donating may call United Way at 873-0686 or go to the website uwmm.org, according to Barron. Those wanting to volunteer in programs throughout United Way’s coverage area or individuals wanting to simply donate funds may do the same.

If United Way does not meet its $700,000 goal, it will not be able to help four agencies waiting to see if the United Way will fund them. They have not received such funding before.

“My hope is that we can at the very least raise as much as we did last year so as not to make cuts to agencies we do fund,” Barron said.

She said with the funding raised last year, 45,000 people were reached in mid-Maine.

The United Way of Mid-Maine supports organizations such as the South End Teen Center in Waterville, a satellite unit of the Waterville Area Boys & Girls Club. Katie Gorman, from left, braids Keysha Rodriguez’s hair on Monday, under the eye of youth specialist Anna Holdener while Gracie Prosper hangs out.

UNITED WAY NETWORK

United Way of Mid-Maine is one of nine independent United Ways in Maine and is a member of United Way Worldwide, to which it gives 1 percent of its revenues. Being a member allows the local United Way access to initiatives such as 211 Maine, a free, confidential, statewide helpline that provides people with information and connects them to local programs and services. Those who call 211 or email 211maine.org can be directly transferred to specialists who deal with opiate, gambling and veterans issues. Family-Wize, which allows people to save up to 75 percent on prescriptions, and Youth Homelessness Initiative are among other programs that are accessible because United Way is a member of the worldwide organization.

The nine United Ways in the state also share resources and support each other, though each raises funds for only their territories, according to Barron.

United Way of Mid-Maine helps fund programs such as the Community Dental Center, formerly located in The Center in downtown Waterville and now located in FirstPark in Oakland. It also helps fund the South End Teen Center, a Kennebec Valley Community Action Program in Waterville; Spectrum Generations Meals on Wheels; Alfond Youth Center’s after school program and Camp Tracy; literacy volunteers in both Kennebec and Somerset counties; and Hospice Volunteers of Somerset County, to name a few.

United Way has volunteers all over its coverage area who keep track of funding needs and emerging or unmet needs, according to Barron. The organization thinks it is important to keep a larger vision for the entire community and think about how it can help to build stronger communities by building stronger infrastructure for all nonprofit organizations.

The United Way evolved in Waterville many years ago from the Waterville Chamber of Commerce, according to Barron, who said there was a lot of need in the community and businesses recognized that and kept a community chest.

“This is such an amazing community,” she said. “People respond to the needs that come up, and I see that every day.”

United Way will hold its annual Mad Hatter fundraiser 5:30-9 p.m. April 4 at Kennebec Valley Community College’s  Carter Hall gymnasium. The event, which costs $50 a person, includes a meal with gourmet desserts, a murder mystery and live auction, according to Barron.

“We used to have it in December,” she said. “It’s also our celebration of our campaign and our leading workplace campaign awards. December was difficult for some people, so this is a new time of year for us. We’re hoping it will work out for everyone. There’s lots of room for lots of people.”

Anyone wanting to attend may call United Way or access its website, she said, adding that invitations will be mailed soon.

 

Amy Calder — 861-9247
[email protected]
Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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