IRS Certified volunteer Mary LeCours assists Marlon Service with his taxes (for free) through the Western Maine CA$H Coalition. United Way coordinates the program in partnership with New Ventures Maine. This year, tax filers came to United Way and documents were scanned and prepared remotely by volunteers limiting contact for everyone and creatively continuing an important service offered since 2003. Submitted photo

United Way of the Tri-Valley Area’s mission is to improve people’s lives and build a strong and healthy community. It meets its mission by raising funds and allocating those funds to programs throughout Greater Franklin County ranging from Literacy Volunteers and Meals on Wheels to a wheelchair ramp program at Mission at the Eastward. United Way also coordinates initiatives such as the Community Energy Challenge; free tax preparation; and a backpack and school supplies drive called Packs for Progress. It also is the hub for information and provides support to 211, a free, confidential helpline available 24 hours a day, seven days a week (and via texting your zip code to 207-898-211 or visiting 211maine.org). United Way of the Tri-Valley Area was established in 1981 and is one of 9 locally-governed United Ways in Maine, according to a news release from Lisa Laflin, ED United Way of the Tri-Valley Area.

In March of 2020 the pandemic changed everyone’s life, including the lives of United Way staff and volunteers. The organization was preparing for its annual meeting and campaign celebration when plans had to abruptly change. Virtual became the new norm as donors and award recipients were recognized online (like Katie Hallman who was the recipient of the Gary A. LaGrange 2020 Community Impact Award.)

Staff worked remotely out of an abundance of caution for a few weeks, learning, like everyone, how to master Zoom, avoid the refrigerator, and stay safe. A staggered schedule, mask wearing and sanitizing allowed the three staff to reenter its offices at 218 Fairbanks Road in Farmington in mid-Spring. The office remained locked but parking lot conversations could occur with visitors and the business of caring for the community could continue. A contact-free bin was a safe place to distribute more than 2,500 masks made by volunteers.

There was a lot of creative planning to do if events could not be run as usual and workplace campaigns were to be run virtually. Careful planning allowed for youth to access funding through The Hope Fund; the backpack program to continue; an online auction and radio auction in partnership with WKTJ to be conducted; the Trail of Terror to be offered Halloween weekend with more than 600 people attending; and the Community Energy Challenge to continue for its 11th year.

While planning events and programs United Way also was doing what it does best — raising funds to address community needs. And that it did, in addition to its annual workplace campaign activity, individuals, businesses and foundations came forward to donate $107,000 to the organization’s Very Basics Fund. Grants through this fund support community programs that address food insecurity, shelter, fuel and other basic needs. Thirty-six programs have been funded to date through The Very Basics Fund.

While United Way was able to allocate new support to various programs, it is very proud that it was also able to meet its obligations to its Community Partners that were funded in January of 2020. These partners receive payments throughout the year with a caveat that if something major occurs, United Way may have to reduce its grant funding that was allocated. Despite major losses in revenue due to the explosion at the Pixelle Androscoggin Mill and reductions in giving through workplaces, Partners received full payments in December of 2020.

As COVID-19 are rising while the vaccine is being administered. United Way continues to be in a delicate balancing act of hope for the future while maintaining all the fine-tuned protocols learned in the last year.

What is on the horizon for the organization? United Way continues to strive to meet its mission while keeping staff and volunteers safe. With lessons learned from this past year it is moving forward with optimism knowing that it plays a crucial role in the recovery of its service area — Franklin County, Livermore and Livermore Falls. To that end, fundraising continues and the distribution of those resources continues. A new strategic plan will soon be shared with the community and its partners so the organization can focus on impacting the greatest needs in the region and measure its success.

For more information, contact United Way at 778-5048 or [email protected]. Don’t forget to like them on facebook, too at facebook.com/uwtva.