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Each year, United Way of the River Cities (UWRC) provides funding to programs in the community that have a significant impact on the region's most critical issues. These issues have been identified through the review of carefully gathered data.

Safety-Net Services, or basic needs, grants are awarded annually, and impact grants are awarded every two years. The grant process is implemented by a group of dedicated volunteers, and authorized by UWRC's board of directors. Local United Ways are affiliates of United Way Worldwide, yet operate independently, locally, and base funding decisions on the needs of the communities in which they operate.

The following organizations were awarded funding from UWRC for 2015-16 for Safety-Net Services. These services include food, clothing, safe shelter, and health care.

American Red Cross, Branches Domestic Violence Shelter, Cabell Huntington Coalition for the Homeless, Campbell Chapel Church, Christian Associates, Community Mission Outreach, Facing Hunger Foodbank,

Huntington City Mission, Mason County Baby Pantry, Southwestern Community Action Council and Wayne County Community Services.

The following agencies received a two-year impact grant in 2014 for their work to address critical issues in the areas of education, income and health. These include substance abuse, childhood obesity, dropout rates, a lack of family support, and a lack of life skills.

n Education: Boys and Girls Club, Goodwill Life Skills, Jobs for WV Graduates, Tri-State Literacy Council, Unlimited Future.

n Income: Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Tri-State, Developmental Therapy, Goodwill Family Services, Pinecrest at Prestera.

n Health: Recovery Point of Huntington and YMCA.

Note that neither of these lists includes Planned Parenthood. United Way of the River Cities does not currently provide funding to Planned Parenthood, nor has it in the past.

The work that UWRC supports is directly tied to the core areas of education, income, health and safety net services. In addition to providing funding as listed above, UWRC hosts coalitions which address financial stability, substance abuse prevention and education. The community programs receiving grants and the community-based coalitions are what donor dollars support. It is the work that helps adults read; provides mentors to young people; ensures that a family has safe shelter; and empowers youth to make healthy choices.

UWRC has partnered with organizations and agencies since 1922 to improve community conditions and to make the region productive and healthy. Funding decisions always have been made by volunteers and dollars always have been directed to local organizations. All funds raised stay in the region.

The public can learn more about UWRC's work by visiting www.unitedwayrivercities.org. At the website, you will also find UWRC's IRS 990 tax return, as well as the most recent audit. These documents contain the facts about the use of UWRC's funds. Another excellent website is www.guidestar.org. This site lists thousands of non-profits from across the country, including their 990's and audits.

Donors should do their best to educate themselves by referencing reliable sources before deciding to whom to donate. Guidestar, Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator are excellent resources that provide factual information about non-profits. Taking a few moments to research a non-profit's work and its use of funds is time well spent and ensures that important philanthropic decisions are made based on accurate information.

In approximately one month, UWRC will begin its annual drive to raise money to support these types of programs and coalitions that are changing lives and the community. There are many challenges yet to be addressed head on. Non-profits and United Ways are called upon now more than ever to address these problems and create solutions. To do so takes resources. To do so takes you!

Laura Gilliam is executive director of the United Way of the River Cities.

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