United Way of Eagle River Valley gives support, hope to many in community | VailDaily.com

United Way of Eagle River Valley gives support, hope to many in community

Julie Imada-Howard
Vail Daily/Coreen SappSteve and Evie Bopp, with their grandchildren, on the access ramp in front of their Edwards home.

And many of those angels have an angel of their own: The United Way of the Eagle River Valley.

A behind-the-scenes supporter of many local nonprofit groups since 1996, the local United Way has quietly given many community nonprofits and social agencies the extra dollars they need to make a difference in the community.

Bopp said she is grateful she and others who have fallen on hard times have a wide range of organizations and social services to turn to in the valley. Bopp suffers from multiple sclerosis, is blind and, along with her husband Steve, takes care of her two grandsons, one of whom suffers from the effects of fetal alcohol poisoning.

When first diagnosed with MS four years ago, Bopp needed wheelchair ramps and other items installed in her mobile home, but didn’t know where she’d get the money. She turned to several social service organizations for help, and on the day she was released from the hospital, was able to roll into her home thanks, in part, to funds from the Eagle Valley Assistance Fund.

A revolving loan program, the fund helps working families not qualified for traditional economic assistance. It offers no-interest loans to help cover basic and critical needs including housing, transportation and medical bills as well as financial counseling and referrals to other assistance agencies.

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Critical assistance

Since 1993, the fund has helped about 200 families besides the Bopps. Recipients include a single mother with a medical crisis who used a loan to keep her home out of foreclosure, and other residents who have received down-payment and rent assistance.

The fund allows people who have fallen on hard times to develop self sufficiency. Fund board member Tsu Wolin-Brown noted a case where a father took a loan to buy tools so he could work. After he paid off his loan, he was able to apply for help with a down payment to purchase a home.

“A lot of these people don’t have credit and could never have gotten a loan otherwise,” Wolin-Brown said.

Last year, the United Way gave a grant of $2,500 to the fund and Wolin-Brown said the support was essential.

“United Way makes a big difference for a lot of our nonprofits. It allows people to make donations through work,” said Wolin-Brown.

The Salvation Army, also supported by United Way, has also helped the Bopps and other local families. United Way gave the group a $5,000 grant last year, which has helped the Salvation Army operate many of their programs.

In turn, the Salvation Army works with many local organizations and agencies including Vail Valley Cares, the Resource Center of Eagle County and Eagle County Department of Health and Human Services to provide referrals to social services, a year-round food bank and holiday food basket program and emergency financial assistance.

Bountiful baskets

Adopt-A-Family is one Salvation program that pairs families who may not otherwise have a happy holiday with donor families who provide clothing, food and toys.

“My grandchildren would not have had Christmas for a few years without the Salvation Army. Those (donor families) are wonderful. The kids got new outfits for school including coats, boots, and even gloves,” said Bopp, who also praised the organization’s food program.

According to local Salvation Army director Greg Osteen, the food bank gives more than 240 food baskets to families over the course of a year. Each basket contains basic items including canned vegetables, rice and pasta, peanut butter, bread, dried milk and toiletries. If a basket is for a family with an infant, baby food and diapers are also included. During the holiday food basket program this past year, the organization gave an additional 785 food baskets to families in need.

Operating on a budget of just $100,000 and with only one paid staff member, the Salvation Army gives 70 percent of its budget to direct aid.

“United Way is very important. Without their support, we’d be out of business,” said Joanne Carhart Levy, the Salvation Army’s local fund-raising coordinator.

Miles for Smiles

Since 1996, the local United Way chapter has given more than $470,000 to community nonprofits and programs, and in 2003, distributed more than $119,000.

Local board president Drew Dodd said the chapter distributed 97 percent of what it collected last year, spending the rest on fund-raising and administrative costs. The chapter’s commitment to disbursing the majority of funds raised translates into good things for more local organizations looking for money.

Miles For Smiles is one United Way-supported program using those extra dollars to make the smiles of local children a little brighter.

Run by Catholic Charities and the Denver-based Kids In Need of Dentistry program, Miles for Smiles has helped hundreds of low-income children in Eagle County get basic dental care including annual cleanings, fillings and X-rays. The children who receive care are referred to the program from social service organizations including Head Start and through counselors at local schools.

Thanks in part to a $4,000 United Way grant in 2003, Miles For Smiles was able to serve more than 110 Eagle County children in 2003 and hopes to increase that number in the coming years.

“The United Way is essential,” said Catholic Charities director Tom Ziemann. He said t because United Way is such a well-known and respected organization, its support has helped Miles For Smiles obtain more money from other donors.

“It encourages others to want to get on the bandwagon,” he said.

“Going upwards’

Another United Way beneficiary, the Early Childhood Coaching and Consultation program, helps local childcare centers improve their care and education programs.

The coaching program, overseen by Colorado West Mental Health and Eagle County Health and Human Services, works with students, families and teachers in licensed childcare centers, helping care providers improve curriculum, address children’s social and emotional skills, and provide referrals to community services if needed.

Jane West, the former coordinator and current consultant for the program, lauded the United Way’s support of programs that address the needs of the county’s youngest residents.

“The fact that the United Way exists here is invaluable given the size and needs of this county,” she said.

Kathleen Forinash, director of Eagle County Health and Human Services, credits United Way dollars for helping stretch tight budgets. She noted that United Way’s $1,500 grant to the coaching program was matched by a private foundation grant.

“What United Way does on a broader basis is open the opportunity for all of us to participate… United Way dollars impact everyone in small and meaningful ways. It’s a community glue,” said Forinash.

That glue is helping hold together the people and the organizations United Way supports.

Bopp encourages others to remember there are always people, like herself, in the community in need and urged support for organizations like United Way and their grant recipients.

“The money actually makes it to the people that need it most. What goes around, comes around and we’re going upwards, not downwards,” said Bopp.

Founded in Denver in 1887 as a way to raise money for local charities, the United Way of America developed a unique approach to fund raising that continues to be used by organizations throughout the world.

United Way chapters develop partnerships with local businesses, whose employees can make donations through one-time contributions or regular payroll deductions. Rather than earmarking donations for specific nonprofit organizations, the money is pooled, allowing larger grants to be made to a variety of organizations.

Local businesses that support the United Way through payroll deduction programs include 1st Bank, Alpine Bank, City Market and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District.

United Way also raises money through letter-writing campaigns, direct marketing and through individual donor programs.

The United Way is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, so all donations are tax deductible.

Requests for United Way support are accepted in May. Board members then review the proposals and select the organizations to receive funding.

For more information about becoming a United Way community partner, to make a donation or to inquire about grant application guidelines log onto http://www.unitedwayeaglerivervalley.org or call Drew Dodd at either 748-5703 or 376-2850.

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