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Neighbors need your help United Way drive warrants generosity and hopes to build better relationships

Tough economic times have impacted every American, making it a challenge for non-profit organizations to raise money. Such is the case with the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County as it embarks on its annual campaign trail. But few other agencies have as compelling a claim to the generosity of people and businesses in this area than this organization that distributes and multiplies the help so desperately needed by so many in troubled economic times.

The United Way's goal this year is $14.2 million, with a theme that giving a dollar a week makes a big difference. The goal is similar to the 2008 campaign's $14.25 million result.

The organization is under new leadership this year, headed by Michael Weiner, who served as the county's commissioner of mental health from 2000 to 2004 and previously worked as regional director of the Western New York field office of the state Office of Mental Health. Under Weiner's direction, there is a plan to seize what agency proponents view as a tremendous opportunity to familiarize people with the goals and objectives of the organization.

Included in that is a new model connecting people who want to help with those in need of help. The business model will, it is hoped, increase public knowledge about specific initiatives and accountability, and about connections and collaborations with partners.

As part of that, the United Way has outlined areas of concentrated effort. They include education, with an emphasis on school readiness, increasing the graduation rate and decreasing the dropout rate; income, designed to move households toward greater financial stability and help facilitate income increases in lower-income houses of all ages; and wellness for both children and adults, stressing programs that improve the ability and affordability of healthy foods, safe homes and healthy lifestyles.

United Way officials, in discussing recent funding decisions, hope people understand that the organization will become stewards of publicly donated dollars. To their credit, an improvement in the funding process is under way so that agencies would not be blind-sided by any funding changes, whether a decrease or an increase.

The drive's success is important to this region. It's a matter of survival to some who live here, a chance for improved lives for others. The United Way organization has promised a strategic plan associated with a new business model to make sure the donations become investments that change the community for the better; the hope at United Way headquarters is to build even stronger relationships, with both recipients and donors. It's a worthwhile cause; please be generous.

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