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Another Voice: United Way's century of service

By Michael Weiner and Dennis Elsenbeck

Buffalo’s history has been celebrated as a significant part of its comeback as we build upon our community assets. In addition to our cultural, architectural and economic past, our community’s philanthropic history also plays a critical role in shaping and lifting our city.

As the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County celebrates its 100th anniversary, we have been reflecting on our role and impact since the organization’s first fundraising effort was created in 1917. While the focus of our work has evolved, some things have remained constant: collaboration and a willingness to tackle our community’s most pressing issues.

The Joint Charities Campaign, forerunner to the United Way, was created during World War I in response to the dire need for local charities when the focus was on wartime efforts. Ansley Wilcox and other citizens thought that a combined fundraising effort for three charities might have more impact than the individual efforts each was making – and they were right.

That effort began a century of organizations, individuals, organized labor and private enterprise working together to address Erie County’s social issues.

As a nonprofit organization that today supports numerous programs, services and engagement opportunities, collaboration among so many has had tremendous impact. Whether helping during wartime, the Great Depression or in economic downturns, or in addressing specific needs such as poverty, hunger, health or childhood development, the United Way has adapted its focus to support families as needs have changed.

While we began as an organization of three charities supporting wartime families, today we are focused on supporting the building blocks of life, including fighting poverty and improving education and health – issues that we view as central to building a thriving community.

As our “Live United” tagline suggests, we have always believed that we are stronger together than we are alone, and our residents have never let us down. Year after year, individuals donate their time and money through the United Way in service of organizations that work to lift our community. And, just as in the earliest days, local businesses and organized labor play a significant role through workplace campaigns, sponsorships, volunteers, leadership and donations that help the United Way address key issues in our community.

The United Way will continue to fight to improve the lives of residents in Buffalo and Erie County, and to offer opportunities for caring community members to engage and to help in multiple ways.

We are proud of the contribution that the United Way has made and we are humbled by the incredible support from so many. Our intention is to continue to make a difference – for the next hundred years.

Michael Weiner is president and CEO of the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County. Dennis Elsenbeck is chairman of its board of directors.

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