United Way hopes to raise $800K in its 80th year

  • Maeve Shaughnessy, speaking, and Michael Rifanburg, seated, co-chairs of this year’s United Way of Franklin County fundraiser, discussed the campaign at Friday’s Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast. RECORDER PHOTO/DIANE BRONCACCIO

  • Sandy Sayers, executive director of the United Way of Franklin County, speaks during Friday's Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast about this year's campaign. RECORDER PHOTO/DIANE BRONCACCIO

Recorder Staff
Published: 9/22/2017 11:45:21 PM

TURNERS FALLS — 1937 was not a good year for Franklin County. It was in the depths of the Great Depression, when the region’s unemployment rate hit 20 percent.

But it was also the year that five key agencies founded United Way of Franklin County, as a means of fund-raising for local programs to help the community. On Dec. 4, 1937, the first “One-for-Five” fund drive was organized in Greenfield and held the following May.

The chairwoman of that first campaign was Nancy Sawyer, who died last fall. Sawyer was the mother of Amy Clarke of Greenfield, another past chairwoman and founder of Women’s Way, a United Way program that hosts “It’s Blooming Backpacks” for schoolchildren each year. The first five agencies that founded the fund drive were the Girls Club, Visiting Nurses Association, Camp Kee-wanee, Girl Scouts, and the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

That first “One-for-Five” fundraiser was most successful fund drive since the Liberty Bond drive during World War I, according to the United Way of Franklin County website.

By 1940, the group was incorporated as “the Greenfield Community Chest” and then, in 1943, as “the Greenfield War Fund and Community Chest,” to support the U.S. effort during World War II.

In 1957, it joined with the Community Chests of Orange and Athol to become the United Fund of Franklin County. And in 1973 the name was changed again to United Way of Franklin County.

“Over the next 80 years, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised to aid the community,” said Maeve Shaughnessy, co-chair of this year’s United Way campaign and marketing/communications specialist at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. She was speaking to those attending Friday morning’s Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Franklin County Technical School.

“One thing that hasn’t changed over the years in Franklin County is its generosity,” she said.

United Way Executive Director Sandy Sayers said the organization now serves about 35,000 people each year through its member programs.

Sayers said this year’s $800,000 goal is ambitious, but the group raised about $875,000 in 2008. “We’re going to try and get (the amount raised) back up,” said Sayers. “We have $175,000 in hand already and 100 percent participation from our board members — people who are stepping up early to get us going this year.”

The drive runs through June 30, although most of the workplace campaigns are completed by December, Sayers said. Each year, about 30 volunteers reach out to individuals, local organizations and through employers.

Michael Rifanburg, co-chair of this year’s fundraiser and publisher of The Greenfield Recorder, pointed out that United Way reached last year’s goal of $750,000 for the first time in recent years. “I’m pleased we’re turning the tide,” he said. Rifanburg asked business leaders to “try to stretch” office fundraising. “We get far more requests from programs than we can ever fulfill,” he said.

According to Sayers, money raised through United Way helps pay for about 40 programs offered through 25 local agencies. Among the local member agencies that provide programs with United Way funding are: the Salvation Army in Greenfield and Athol, the Greenfield YMCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County, Girl Scouts and Boy Scout councils; ServiceNet, the Literacy Project, Life Path Inc., United ARC, Community Action, and the Center for New Americans.

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