By Mary Heyl

If you’ve been interested in making a lasting impact on your community this year through the gift of money or your time, then United Way of Cattaraugus County is your one-stop source of information. Through the United Way, you can learn about volunteer opportunities, funding needs, and local charitable events throughout the county so that your time and money stays local, helping individuals right in your own community.

United Way is a worldwide organization comprised of almost 1,800 community-based United Ways in 45 countries and territories, including United Way of Cattaraugus County. It all began in 1887 in Denver, CO, when a local woman, a priest, two ministers, and a rabbi worked together to make Denver a better place. The organization they created collected funds for local charities, coordinated relief services, made emergency assistant grants, and referred individuals in need to specific agencies that could offer help.

Now, 130 years later, United Way is the largest non-profit organization in the world with one mission: to advance the common good in the three areas of education, income, and health.

United Way works to bring together the stakeholders of each community, including local governments, non-governmental organizations, and business partners, to build collective impact strategies to address the most pressing needs identified at the local level. United Way of Cattaraugus County partners with the county’s Department of Social Services (DSS), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the IRS, and St. Bonaventure University to support a variety of county organizations.

In 2016, United Way of Cattaraugus County funded 16 different organizations, including the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of WNY, Homecare & Hospice, Project Head Start, Salamanca Youth Center, Special Olympics WNY, and the Warming House Soup Kitchen. While many of these organizations have their own fundraising programs, none has the staff or financial resources needed to raise all of the funds needed to operate. United Way helps these organizations by contributing funds to relieve them of some of the administrative demands and expenses of fundraising, thus reducing duplication of fundraising efforts and expenses.

It’s easy to make a donation to United Way of Cattaraugus County! Many area employers participate in the United Way Payroll Deduction Campaign in which participants can designate a certain percentage of each paycheck to be donated to United Way. Individuals can also give to United Way by visiting www.uwcattco.org to make a secure online donation, where they can also dedicate their donation in memory of or in honor of a loved one.

United Way of Cattaraugus County is pleased to offer area organizations and community members their free “Get Connected” service that connects volunteers with organizations in need. This free service is located on United Way of Cattaraugus County’s website at www.uwcattco.galaxydigital.com and is available to all agencies, food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and non-profit partners to post their needs for volunteers, advocates, or in-kind donations. Retirees, students, and other community members can use the system by selecting their skills or passions and getting matched up with organizations that have posted their needs in different areas.

For example, Joyful Rescues, Inc. of Cuba, NY used the Get Connected service to share their mission as a no-kill animal shelter and to post their need for operating supplies including collars and leashes, blankets, canned dog food, and pet toys. Wild Spirit Education, one of the biggest environmental education organizations in WNY, recently posted volunteer opportunities for environmental educators, wildlife rehabilitators and more. No matter what your interests or skills, United Way of Cattaraugus County can connect you to an area organization in need.

Even if you don’t have the time to volunteer on a regular basis, you can still make a meaningful contribution to United Way of Cattaraugus County by participating in local events, including the upcoming Ski Day for United Way at HoliMont on Thursday, March 2 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. There are two registration levels: the $60 registration includes breakfast, lift tickets, lunch, a poker run entry, event t-shirt, prizes, and more. The $40 registration includes skiing and the poker run (no lunch or t-shirt).  Pre-registration guarantees an event shirt; to register, visit www.uwcattco.org or call (716)372-3620.