Our Story

United Way Circle of HopeLearn more about our history.  
It just might inspire you to build a better future.



In 1887, a Denver priest, two ministers and a rabbi recognized the need for cooperative action to address their city's welfare problems. The Rev. Myron W. Reed, Msgr. William J. O'Ryan, Dean H. Martyn Hart and Rabbi William S. Friedman put their heads together to plan the first united campaign for 10 health and welfare agencies. They created an organization to serve as an agent to collect funds for local charities, as well as to coordinate relief services, counsel and refer clients to cooperating agencies, and make emergency assistance grants in cases that could not be referred. That year, Denver raised $21,700 and created a movement that would spread throughout the country to become United Way.

After World War II, a group of business and labor leaders worked together to promote a united workplace-giving model facilitated by payroll deductions. Employees were told what their fair share was and they were expected to donate that amount. This made fundraising for local United Ways fairly easy. The money raised was distributed in the form of block grants to pre-approved partner agencies. Culture in the business community has changed over the decades and we can no longer depend on companies with many employees to fund our programs. We must reach out to companies with fewer employees as well as asking for corporate and individual gifts.

Along with the changes in how money is raised, there are also changes to how money is allocated. More recently, a consensus developed among local United Ways to determine priorities for United Way funding:

  • Helping children and youth succeed through engagement
  • Strengthening and supporting families
  • Improving access to health care
  • Promoting financial stability

Today, United Way is still focused on mobilizing the caring power of communities and making a difference in people's lives. United Way is the largest privately funded nonprofit organization. There are nearly 1,800 local United Ways in 45 countries around the world. Ohio has 60 local United Ways.

United Way Worldwide Mission: United Way improves lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities around the world to advance the common good.


United Way of Portage County was organized in 1970. It represented the merging of the Kent Twin Lakes Area United Fund & Red Cross, Ravenna United Fund, and Portage County United Fund. The first Board of Trustee had 36 members. President Robert White and the board members supported 17 agencies plus local assistance programs.

About 30 years ago, United Way of Portage County moved away from awarding money in the form of block grants to funding programs and the Allocation Committee became the Community Impact Committee. Agencies submit grant applications for programs they want United Way to fund. The proposals need to show:

  1. that there is a need
  2. how the organization is going to fill that need
  3. what resources they have
  4. what outcomes they expected
  5. how they would measure that outcome.

Feedback from Community Impact Committee volunteers showed that they did not like having to decide between a proposal from Girl Scouts and one from a homeless shelter. They questioned, “Why aren't all homeless shelters reviewed by the same panelists?”

That change was made. Now, all proposals must fit into three categories -- Youth Education, Public Health and Critical Needs --  and separate panels review requests in each category.

Community impact volunteers nationwide were concerned that a one-year award did not provide financial stability for programming and it was not enough time to determine if needs were being met. It was a consensus decision that local United Ways would move to a three-year funding cycle and study the needs of each community to set goals and priorities.


  • United Way of Portage County was organized early in 1967. It represented the merging of the Kent Twin Lakes, Ravenna and Portage County United Funds. 

  • The first Board of Trustees included 36 members. President was Robert White and the board agreed to support a total of 17 agencies plus local assistance programs

  • Fred Haschel served as Chairman for first Budget Committee.    

  • Robert C. Dix, served as Campaign Chairman in 1968.               

  • In March 1976, the United Fund of Portage County became the United Way of Portage.

  • In 1987, the First Annual Portage Senior Bowl was held.

  • As a thank you to all the volunteers, UWPC sponsored a “Night to Remember” at Sea World on September 10, 1987. 

  • UWPC hit its goal and then some in 1988. 

  • UWPC service “Thanks to you” contribution helped 75,000 People in Portage County. 

  • In 1994, the First Annual Days of Caring was held. More than 140 individuals represented 18 companies & organizations participated.

  • In 2004, a UWPC Video was honored. The campaign earns first place at competition award of excellence.

  • In the same year, 2-1-1, provided free charge for all Portage County residents and formerly called “First Call for Help,” manages more than 14,000 calls a year, maintains a data base of more than 800 programs in Portage County and produces numerous resources for schools, hospitals and other organizations.

  • In 2005, the United Way of Portage County Campaign goal was $275,406.

  • In 2006, UWPC received $10,000 from the Dominion Foundation and Henry V. & Frances W. Christenson Foundation for First Call for Help, now 2-1-1. The program is expanded to wireless customers in Portage County as cell phones replace landlines as primary telephones.

  • In 2018-2019, UWPC-supported agencies served 32,753 meals to Portage County residents.

United Way of Portage County is a volunteer-based organization that supports the greatest variety of health & human services in the county, reaching people from all walks of life and income groups. Its single community-wide campaign unites businesses, volunteers and citizens to raise funds to support local family and community needs.


Over the years, many lives and communities have been enriched and improved through United Way. However, there is still a need to change and further improve the quality life for every individual and community; but we can’t do it without you.  We can make a difference by Living United. You can help by volunteering or donating.