By Karen Hutchinson-Talaski

Staff writer

HERMISTON — Without the United Way, Agape House wouldn't be able to do the things they do for local residents.

According to Dave Hughes, executive director for Agape House, a third of his budget comes from the United Way.

"Without those funds, it would be difficult to maintain the level of service we do," said Hughes.

The United Way, says Executive Director Kricket Nicholson, helps fund 23 agencies throughout Morrow and Umatilla counties, including Agape House, Vange John Community Hospice, Boardman Senior Citizens, Boy Scouts, Campus Life and Domestic Violence Services.

Without the generosity of local residents from around the two-county area, these agencies might have to curtail some of their services. This year is critical, according to Nicholson, because people are not donating like they used to do.

"This year is pathetic," Nicholson said. "The face of giving has changed."

United Way donations are nearly all by payroll deductions. Donations are down, Nicholson believes, because employers do not want to take time away from production to have her talk about United Way to their employees. Putting United Way brochures in paychecks does not seem to bring donations in.

"Sticking it in the pay envelope doesn't work as well as face-to-face contact," Nicholson said. "It (face-to-face) makes it real."

Many employers donate to United Way in lump sums. What Nicholson would like to see employers do is allow their employees to invest in their community, which is where United Way funds go.

Nicholson takes only $81,000 of the $288,500 that is donated to United Way for her office budget. That includes her salary, new supplies like paper, pens, brochures, etc., postage, printing, and the annual audit. This year, United Way changed their logo so every office has to change their brochures and letterhead.

Fortunately, the space Nicholson's office is in is rent-free and the landlord pays for her utilities. Volunteers help open the mail. Volunteers also fill her board of directors, from all walks of life and businesses.

The board of directors and allocation volunteers work together to determine how much money goes where. The allocation process is based on the need of community partners. Just because an agency wants a specific dollar amount doesn't necessarily mean it will get that amount. This year request is $318,282, a lot more than the $288,500 Nicholson is expecting to receive.

"I have to assume that 7 to 10 percent won't come in," Nicholson said.

She works that into her budget, just in case the total amount doesn't come in.

In donating to the United Way, a person can pledge their donation to be given to a specific partner or partners, says Nicholson. Even non-partners can receive donations from people's donations. United Way does take 18 percent for handling and processing, however.

Nicholson wants people to know that her agency is working hard to ensure everything they do and everyone they deal with is above board. The funds that come in to the office are sent to an interest-bearing account. A yearly audit ensures everything is done correctly.

"We want to help strengthen the agencies that we work with," Nicholson said. "It is our responsibility to our community to make sure they (charitable organizations) are legitimate."

The advantage of donating to United Way is simple, says Nicholson.

"United Way does the footwork," she said. "We make sure they are a viable agency. Everybody wants credibility and accountability."

For more information on how you can help, contact United Way at 541-276-2661 or email Nicholson at unitedwayco@eoni.com or visit their website at www.umatillamorrowunitedway.org.

Karen Hutchinson-Talaski can be reached at ktalaski@hermistonherald.com.

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