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Turning 60

United Way to celebrate birthday with UCA event

By Tammy Keith

This article was published September 14, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.

maret-cahill-wicks-executive-director-of-the-united-way-of-central-arkansas-holds-a-copy-of-the-1957-document-that-formed-the-faulkner-community-fund-fifteen-men-and-women-from-faulkner-county-cities-signed-the-document-and-formed-the-first-board-which-became-the-united-way-agency-a-60th-birthday-celebration-for-the-organization-will-take-place-from-2-6-pm-saturday-at-the-university-of-central-arkansas-practice-field-before-the-football-game

Maret Cahill-Wicks, executive director of the United Way of Central Arkansas, holds a copy of the 1957 document that formed the Faulkner Community Fund. Fifteen men and women from Faulkner County cities signed the document and formed the first board, which became the United Way agency. A 60th- birthday celebration for the organization will take place from 2-6 p.m. Saturday at the University of Central Arkansas practice field before the football game.

People like S.T. “Ros” Smith of Conway and 14 others signed a document in October 60 years ago to create the Faulkner Community Fund to raise money for social agencies.

Today, the organization is known as the United Way of Central Arkansas.

“We have the paperwork from [the founding]; it’s pretty cool,” Executive Director Maret Cahill-Wicks said. The document was signed Oct. 14, 1957.

To celebrate, a 60th-birthday/tailgating party is scheduled from 2-6 p.m. Saturday on the University of Central Arkansas practice field at Bruce Street and Farris Road in Conway before UCA’s first home football game. The celebration will include free hot dogs, hamburgers, cookies and drinks, as well as carnival games hosted by the partner agencies. Kickoff will be at 7:15 p.m. at Estes Stadium for the UCA Bears game with Southeastern Louisiana University.

Cahill-Wicks said the families of the men and women who started the United Way of Central Arkansas will also be honored on the field at halftime.

She said the United Way staff has been trying to locate original founders or their families. She said Smith is the only person on the list the staff has been able to find who is still living, although she said there may be others.

Smith, 91, said he has physical limitations and can’t attend the game, “but I really appreciate it,” he said.

He recalled that the idea behind forming the corporation was to have a centralized fundraising drive for nonprofit organizations. Smith said he remembers that the United Way of Little Rock approached Conway leaders about the endeavor.

“We [created the foundation] in order for ease of the merchants and for everybody to have one drive, instead of a Boy Scout, Girl Scout drive — one organization, one drive, and that would be it. It didn’t really work out that way. I think it’s close to that now. A lot of the people wanted to raise money and would not join with us,” Smith said.

“Our first drive raised probably $5,000,” he said, laughing.

The United Way of Central Arkansas has helped the community tremendously through the years, he said.

“Plus, they’ve done exactly what we were trying to do; they’ve been able to gather these organizations, nonprofits, into one group and then separate the money for them as the board wants,” he said.

“It was a good idea then, and it’s a good idea now,” Smith said.

In addition to Smith, other names on the original document are J.H. Raney, Bobby King, Joe McGee, Harold Eidson, Mrs. H.O. Weatherly, Mrs. E.O. Christopher, Ernest Halter, J.A. Winebright, Eugene Landers, Mrs. Jane Thomas, Clyde Kirby, B.A. Bailey, Mrs. Dib Williams and N.R. Little.

Cahill-Wicks said anyone with information about former board members or their families is asked to call (501) 327-5087.

She said the organization has been through four name changes, switching to the

United Way of Central Arkansas in 2008. According to its history on the website, the organization became United Funds of Faulkner County Inc. in 1964 and the United Way of Faulkner County in 1973.

The United Way of Central Arkansas serves Faulkner and Perry counties and has just added Van Buren County, Cahill-Wicks said.

Last year’s fundraising goal was $575,009, and the fund garnered $635,000 in pledges.

This year, the goal is $650,000, Cahill said. The campaign kicked off in August, and Cahill has made presentations to some of the counties’ school districts, Target, UPS and others.

The organization funds 20 member agencies and 28 programs, including HAVEN, a shelter for abused and neglected girls, and the Faulkner County Council on Aging, which oversees six senior centers in Faulkner County. Cahill-Wicks said seven of the programs funded by the United Way already exist in Van Buren County.

Debra Robinson, executive director of the Faulkner County Senior Citizens Program, said the United Way of Central Arkansas funding is invaluable.

“It helps us to provide meals, transportation, Meals on Wheels … and helps our health-and-wellness activities at our senior centers,” she said.

Robinson said the program received federal matching dollars, greater than 50 percent matching.

If the current fundraising campaign is successful, she said, the United Way will allocate $70,500 to the senior program. Then the program will receive $137, 449 in federal money, for a total of $207, 949, “so that’s almost one-fourth of our annual budget,” Robinson said. “We couldn’t do what we do without [the United Way’s] support, for sure.”

Cahill-Wicks said the United Way of Central Arkansas runs two of its own programs. One is Charity Tracker, a software-service database. It was purchased in 2014 following the devastating tornadoes that hit Vilonia and Mayflower.

She said Conway Corp. paid the $7,000 annual fee for the program the first two years; now it’s a line item in the budget.

Charity Tracker is made available at no cost to nonprofit agencies, churches and schools. One use of the database is to share information to help discern legitimate needs from those who are trying to milk the system.

In an earlier interview, Cahill-Wicks said, “Say I’m a bad person, and I say, ‘I need $150 to pay my light bill.’ You pay me $50, and you put me in the system, and I go to the next church and say, ‘I need $150.’”

She said a church employee can look in the computer system and say, “I see First United Methodist Church has paid you $50, so you only need $100.

“We have such limited resources. [Charity Tracker helps] so there are still resources left for the person who comes along with a true need.

“It has helped 7,000 individuals or households with over $200,000 in financial assistance, so we’re really proud of that this year.”

The United Way of Central Arkansas also offers Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, a free tax-preparation service.

“We started a new Financial Empowerment Committee,” Cahill-Wicks said. “They decided they wanted to run VITA. We will house it here at the United Way of Central Arkansas.”

Households with incomes of $54,000 or less “may say, ‘I’m not doing my taxes; I’m not going to get anything back,’” she said. Cahill-Wicks said those people often qualify for earned-income tax credits.

“They might get $125 or nothing,” she said, “but some have gotten $9,000, $15,000.”

The goal is “to bring more financial stability to our residents, and that’s exciting,” Cahill-Wicks said.

She said a Super Saturday is scheduled for Feb. 3 at Brewer-Hegeman Conference Center at UCA, although the details are being finalized.

“We’ll have the tax preparers there, but we’ll try and get free legal assistance” and other services, she said. “We want to have a reason for people to come out and have a good time,” adding that volunteers are needed for the event.

“We do a lot of convening work, bringing people to the table to make the community better. It’s not all about fundraising,” Cahill-Wicks said.

She said the mission of the United Way of Central Arkansas after 60 years is still to bring donors, volunteers and advocates together to make this a better community.

“We’ve got a five-year plan to be a $1 million United Way again and just serve this community the best we can,” Cahill-Wicks said. “We’ve got some good things going.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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