Partnering with Community to Improve Lives
A local nonprofit is setting the bar by focusing on education, financial stability and health for the well-being of Ventura County residents.
Since the United Way of Ventura County’s inception in 1945, the nonprofit has helped raise over $100 million. When the Thomas and Woolsey Fires occurred, the organization helped raise more than $5 million from more than 9,000 donors nationwide. The organization also worked with their national office to assist with partnerships, including Airbnb, who provided disaster housing coordination with its users, and Lyft, who provided ride share services.
“To date, we have given financial assistance to over 1,800 households affected by the fires,” says Eric Harrison, president and CEO of UWVC since December 2014.
Harrison says the main point he would like the public to know about UWVC is that they are more just than a fundraising organization, but rather they focus on building meaningful community solutions.
“The kind of real and lasting change that benefits everyone is only possible when people from all walks of life are willing to roll up their sleeves and go where they are most needed,” says Harrison.
To date, UWVC has more than 1,000 program volunteers and an additional 3,000 registered through the Volunteer Ventura County website, which contains year-round community engagement opportunities.
Community Programs & Partners
Some of the other UWVC programs with local partnerships include Born Learning, a public engagement campaign to help parents, caregivers and communities create learning opportunities for young children; Building Healthy Smiles, which provides dental health for children in underserved populations in the county; Earn It, Keep It, Save It, which provides access to the Earned Income Tax Credit and electronic filing of income taxes free of charge through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program; Emergency Food and Shelter Program, a national program that provides funding to local social service organizations for food, shelter and rental assistance; and Women United, a network of individuals who help resolve single mothers’ issues through their financial and leadership power.
“Our programs are run by United Way Community Impact staff and volunteers who are mobilized based on interest and skill set,” says Harrison.
UWVC also founded 2-1-1 Ventura County, a program of Interface Children and Family Services that connects more than 30,000 Ventura County callers and texters each year with information about health and human services available to them.
“It is the comprehensive information and referral service for Ventura County,” says Harrison.
Jill Haney has been a volunteer with UWVC for 16 years and has served on the board for nine years as a co-chair and an officer. She enjoys being active in the different programs and enjoys how the organization engages the community.
“I like that (UWVC) has a countywide focus and the different programs that focus on income, education and health,” says Haney. “There are so many pieces that do so many different things. Whatever tugs at your heart, there’s a place for you.”
UWVC also hosts three special events each year, including the Spirit Awards Gala, where the organization presents awards in recognition of individuals, corporations and organizations that provide their time, funds and talent to the community; the Women United Annual Luncheon, where educational awards are handed out to single mothers who have completed coursework at a community college and have been accepted by a four-year university, and the countywide Day of Caring, where nonprofits host hundreds of volunteers to give back to the community. This year’s Day of Caring will be held on Saturday, Sept. 28.
“(UWVC) has been coordinating Day of Caring for the past 30 years,” says Harrison.
Future goals Harrison has in store for UWVC is having the organization explore and discover its role when it comes to housing and homeless issues.
“Since the Thomas Fire, homelessness has increased by 28% in Ventura County,” says Harrison. “From many generative internal conversations and external discussions, we determined we needed to explore this further.”
In the year 2020, the nonprofit will celebrate its 75th anniversary and Harrison says there is much more to be done.
“We are proud of the accomplishments of the past and we cannot do it alone,” says Harrison. “The caring power of the community is essential to all our success.”
To volunteer or donate to United Way of Ventura County, visit VCUnitedWay.org.