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Local Opinion: A century of work continues at United Way

Local Opinion: A century of work continues at United Way

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The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

Our story began in good company. If you could turn back the hands of time 100 years, a couple of familiar institutions opened their doors for the first time in Tucson, like the Rialto Theatre, El Charro Café, and your United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona.

A century of service at United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona has taught us many things and one of the most critical is that this work is too important to do alone – we must take a united approach. And it is the past, specifically the past century of service, that United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona celebrates today, for it was in 1922, established as the Community Chest of Tucson, that we began in a very humble place on Stone Avenue where Jacome Plaza sits. Today, due to generous investors and the philanthropic community, the sign from our convening campus at 330 N. Commerce Park Loop can be seen from Interstate 10.

After 100 years we are not only still here but we are engaging in more collaboratively driven work than ever in our community thanks to the generous volunteers, donors, board members, staff, and other stakeholders who have willingly, and ably, served through the years. Because of their dedication we have created stories of positive transformations in the lives of millions. Today we are proud to actively work with more than 80 non-profit agencies, surrounding cities and municipalities in three counties, dozens of local, regional, and national foundations, and hundreds of business and educational entities.

Focusing on education, financial wellness, and healthy communities, from the beginning to the end of life, our work impacts more individuals and families each year. And we continue to add programs and partnerships as the needs of our community continue to change, such as our growing focus on equity and COVID-19 relief.

This year, your United Way served 231,721 individuals which is one in every five members of our community, and we are committed to doubling our impact by serving 360,000 individuals annually by 2023. While we’re well on our way to meet that goal, we know the needs in our community are great. Currently, one in four residents in our region lives in poverty and the Tucson metro area registers a deficit of more than 25,000 housing units for our low-income residents. And due to the pandemic, the child care industry and workforce development suffered crippling setbacks.

The challenges of the last century certainly didn’t seem less daunting at the time. Thus, we must remain nimble to face today’s challenges, all the while being mindful stewards and leveraging the valuable investments we are given, turning them into impactful programs, partnerships, and critical services for those in need. The true measure of our collective success is seeing those who have been helped and hearing stories of triumph such as providing quality early education to a child, financial support to a family for mortgage payments, and vital supportive services that keep older adults at home.

Additional resources will always be needed, and welcomed, as the needs will always be there. This gives all of us an opportunity to be a part of building a thriving community, one individual, one family, at a time. We are grateful to all of those in our community who have, over the past century, been a part of our United Way, remembering that they have been vital to our ability to serve others. As we move boldly, yet with humility, into our next 100 years, we’re guided by our successes over the last century. We do so with the understanding that today’s needs still require the same spirit of collaboration, the duty for which I believe we’ve been called, and the confidence that we can continue to bring systemic positive change to our community by uniting people, ideas, and resources.

Tony Penn is the president and CEO of United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona

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