Twenty-six different St. Francois County agencies received a combined $160,000 in grants last month.
United Way of St. Francois County Director Cassie Thomas said her goal moving forward is to increase raised revenue in order to continue helping local agencies fulfill their missions of helping those in need.
Thomas, of Farmington, has been director of the local organization since January.
United Way is the largest nonprofit organization in the nation.
The organization began in 1887 in Denver when a woman, priest, two ministers and a rabbi decided to work together in new ways to make their city a better place. They created an organization to collect the funds for local charities, coordinate relief services, counsel and refer clients to cooperating agencies, and to make emergency assistance grants for cases that could not be referred.
That year, United Way was created and nearly $22,000 was raised.
The local United Way’s organizational roots started in 1988 when the Salvation Army approached the Farmington community in search of a group to operate the annual holiday kettle campaign. An agreement was reached that the funds raised from the kettle campaign in Farmington would be divided equally between three organizations: the Salvation Army, Farmington Ministerial Alliance and St. Vincent de Paul Society.
This original agreement from more than 30 years ago is still in effect today, although the kettle collections are now divided with one-third of the funds going to the Salvation Army, and two-thirds going to United Way of St. Francois County for grant distribution.
The money given to the Salvation Army is returned to St. Francois County for distribution locally by a Salvation Army Board.
Farmington United Fund, Inc. (FUFI) was formed in 1994. A board was established to manage and grow the fundraising efforts within the community. FUFI’s board of directors made the decision to improve the ability of the organization to raise funds and help those in need in the community.
The United Way of Farmington was formed in 1996 and is a local independent nonprofit 501(c) organization. The organization’s name changed to United Way of St. Francois County when it expanded to include all of the county in 1999.
The local organization is one of more than 1,500 United Way organizations across the nation. In fact, each United Way is an independent organization and governed by its own board of directors.
“Our United Way pays a yearly fee to United Way Worldwide for use of its logo and some organizational guidance,” said Thomas.
In February each year, the local organization publicizes the availability of United Way funding. Once grant applications have been submitted, they are reviewed in April and grant money is distributed around June. This grant money is awarded locally to organizations within St. Francois County.
Thomas said the basic mission of the local United Way is to “provide funding and support to nonprofit groups to help meet the most basic needs of food, shelter, health, education and welfare services in St. Francois County.”
Currently, the largest percentage of the local organization’s grant funding is given to organizations which provide food, utility and housing assistance within the county.
“We provide grants to food pantries within our county, and we also help to support all four senior centers,” said Thomas.
She said previous grants have been presented to organizations including LIFE, Inc. Center for Independent Living, Habitat for Humanity of St. Francois County, EMAA, CASA of the Parkland, and Caring Communities at several of the county’s school districts.
Thomas said she does everything possible to spread the word about the United Way and how the organization supports the community.
“Building relationships is very important when you are asking individuals to share some of their income and invest in helping those in need in St. Francois County,” she said.
That’s why Thomas attends many public meetings so she can speak about the various ways businesses and individuals can become part of United Way of St. Francois County.
In addition to attending many meetings, Thomas hopes to increase the number of individuals who participate in Dine-Out for the United Way, an annual fall program which begins in September. She also wants to increase the percentage of bell ringers for Kettle Campaign which begins in November.
“Getting more exposure is always very important,” she said, “and my main goal is to grow our organization.”
Thomas said it’s important for the community to contribute to the United Way of St. Francois County in order to continue to help those in St. Francois County who need it most.
“In order for us to continue our mission, we rely on the generosity of our local businesses and individuals,” she said.
United Way of St. Francois County’s annual events include individuals’ donations through payroll deductions, Dine Out for St. Francois County, Girls Night Out, Couples Night Out and the annual bell-ringing campaign.
She said most people don’t realize that 100% of the money raised in St. Francois County stays right in the community.
Thomas quoted Canadian philosopher and theologian Jean Vanier to sum it up: “One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals. When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing.”
When Thomas isn’t working at United Way of St. Francois County, she enjoys spending time with her husband Adam, sons Blaine and Tywan, and daughter Bryar. They enjoy family dinnertime, game night and lazy Sunday pool days.
She also likes to cook and read.
Thomas previously worked as director of events for the Farmington Regional Chamber, LIFE Inc., Veterinary Clinic of the Mineral Area, Congressman Jason Smith and Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson.
In her new position as director of United Way of St. Francois County, Thomas enjoys meeting new people and helping those in need.
In the future, she hopes to increase the amount of funding available to area nonprofit organizations through United Way’s grant process.
Watch for updates and upcoming events for United Way of St. Francois County on the organization’s Facebook page.
For more information on how to contribute to the nonprofit organization, contact Thomas at 573-760-8929 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pam Clifton is a contributing writer for the Daily Journal