Weaving a stronger community

United Way: Campaign has broadened into the counties to tap new wealth -- and unmet needs.

November 05, 1999

WE WON'T know for several months whether this year's United Way of Central Maryland campaign tops $40 million for the first time, but this much is clear: More people recognize the need for a regional safety net.

The 1999 campaign has recruited as many new businesses to participate as in the previous two years combined. Many are small and mid-sized technology firms, whose participation helps build a stronger base of support.

Most giving still flows from large employers downtown and needs in the urban core remain great. But the United Way has and broadened its geographic scope. Each suburban county now has its own "partnership board" and tailored campaign. As one campaign handout says, "Need doesn't have a ZIP code."

"It's a credit to the people in the counties that they recognize the need," says Larry E. Walton, president of the Central Maryland drive. Regional strategies helped Richmond, Charlotte and Atlanta grow their campaigns in the past decade; Mr. Walton sees the same evolution in the Baltimore area.

Here are snapshots of United Way activities in the counties:

Anne Arundel

Anne Arundel County ranks third in Maryland in household median income -- and a disappointing 12th in child well-being, according to the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The number of students eligible for free or reduced-price school meals increased 53 percent from 1992 to 1998, according to the foundation's 1999 Kids Count survey. Anne Arundel also has a higher percentage of low birth-weight infants than most jurisdictions and fared worse than most in the Casey rankings in early prenatal care, binge drinking among young people and on-time graduation. Many adults, too, have problems they cannot resolve on their own.

United Way-affiliated organizations in the county provide needed recreation and shelter, offer children direction and teach coping skills. The Annapolis Bywater Boys & Girls Club, the Anne Arundel Conflict Resolution Center, Anne Arundel Habitat for Humanity and the Business and Workforce Development Center are among recipient organizations.

Baltimore County

United Way provided nearly $4.2 million in health and human services to Baltimore County agencies last year. Among them was the YMCA, Maryland's largest provider of care for school-age children.

The Y is partnering with a developer to build a double ice-skating rink at its White Marsh-Fullerton site and hopes to embark on a $4 million renovation of its 50-year-old facility in Towson. More than 125,000 men, women and children participated in Y programs last year. While the YMCA charges for many of its programs, it doesn't refuse to serve those who cannot pay. This year, the YMCA will provide more than $1 million in financial assistance to disadvantaged and high-risk youth.

Without United Way support, the Y would be hard-pressed to do this vital work.

Carroll County

United Way touches the lives of some 60,000 Carroll countians. It helps the Mission of Mercy run health care clinics for the needy. It funds the summer Camp Fun and Food for youngsters in Westminster. Raising Hopes Infant Center provides day care and job aid for teen mothers.

"The need is growing in Carroll County, especially in areas of families and children, and also senior-citizen day care," said Virginia W. Smith, United Way fund-raising chairwoman in the county. "We're seeing new programs in new places," she said, such as the Carroll Child Care Center's day-care facility that opened recently in Taneytown.

Harford County

Ask Don Mathis, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Harford County about the need for United Way in a suburban county: "I've been here two years. I was previously in New York, D.C. and Los Angeles. If any of those places had a school dropout rate under 5 percent like Harford, they'd have a parade. But there are problems here of crime and stress and poverty. Edgewood is a crime `hot spot.' Aberdeen may be one next year.

"If adults are getting high, being stupid, that's the role models these kids see, and it affects them. Yes, in this county of plenty there are kids who aren't doing well in school, there are concentrations of crime and there's a growing drug problem."

The Boys Club opened in a church basement in Aberdeen 10 years ago with 60 children. It now has 1,200 members who pay $5 a year to belong; another 1,800 children attend at least one of its programs. There are clubs in Havre de Grace, Aberdeen and Edgewood where children play games, get homework help and make crafts. A fourth club is opening in Bel Air.

The United Way provides 10 percent of the club's $760,000 budget. That's invaluable, Mr. Mathis says, because it helps validate the program when it solicits other private giving or government grants.

"These kids are our seed corn," Mr. Mathis says. "Do we want them being productive and paying taxes, or do we want to pay $37,000 a year to incarcerate them?"

Howard County

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