United Way

The United Way of Jefferson & North Walworth Counties has announced that it is merging with the Watertown Area United Way, effective July 1.

The move culminates a year of planning and discussions about the many benefits of having one umbrella organization serving the entire local area.

“We are so excited to be moving forward with finalizing this merger, prior to kicking off our 2020 United Way Campaign,” said Megan Hartwick, executive director of the United Way of Jefferson & North Walworth Counties, based in Fort Atkinson. “There have been many discussions in the past year, among many groups throughout the county, about how to better increase collaboration among local organizations to more effectively support those in need.

“We wholeheartedly believe this merger of two local United Ways will put us in a position to do just that: To grow support for our mission to fight for the health, education and financial stability of every person in our communities,” she added.

Chris VanGundy, Watertown Area United Way Board of Directors president, agreed.

“Bringing the Watertown Area United Way under the umbrella of the United Way of Jefferson & North Walworth Counties makes sense in that it gives us the opportunity to leverage our donations in the best possible way in our combined service areas, in turn strengthening the support of our partner agencies,” said VanGundy. “Our donors trust us to make sure their dollars go where they’re needed most and will have the greatest impact, and we believe this merger will allow us to more effectively do that.”

The United Way of Jefferson & North Walworth Counties will continue to support its existing service area of Fort Atkinson, Jefferson, Whitewater, Lake Mills, Palmyra, Sullivan and Helenville, but also now will cover Watertown, Waterloo, Ixonia and Johnson Creek.

Hartwick will continue to serve as the executive director for the expanded organization.

“I couldn’t be more honored to continue my work leading our United Way for our service area,” Hartwick said. “To also now be entrusted with the responsibility of supporting and growing United Way’s presence in the greater Watertown area is something I am inspired by and committed to excel at.”VanGundy said the board members of the Watertown United Way are excited about the opportunities this merger will bring to the greater Watertown community.

“Working with Megan over the last few years, it’s clear that she will bring a revitalized vision of the United Way to Watertown and be able to provide a solid presence for our agencies and donors,” VanGundy stated.

The Watertown Area United Way has been a solely volunteer-led organization with a five-member board of directors. Two of those members — VanGrundy and former President Helen Zuehlke — will be joining the board of directors in the newly expanded United Way.

“I’m looking forward to joining the board of the United Way of Jefferson & North Walworth Counties as a voice for Watertown,” said VanGundy. “I think that, having had the experience of working in the Watertown community under the United Way for over seven years, I can bring the knowledge I’ve gained about the specific needs of Watertown and how we can best address those needs to the merged organization.”

Hartwick said having VanGrundy and Zuehlke’s participation will be a tremendous asset to the board.

“They have established a trusted presence of United Way in the greater Watertown community, which will allow our organization to grow our support more quickly and effectively,” she noted.

Hartwick said that growth will begin with the fall 2020 United Way campaign.

“With the hardships our communities have endured as a result of COVID-19, we know the 2020 campaign will bring a tremendous amount of changes and challenges,” Hartwick said. “However, we also feel very optimistic that the merger will further show our communities that United Way is committed to doing all we can to ensure support to those who need it most and to ensure the overall strength of our communities.

“Now more than ever, United Way’s support is needed and this merger will lend itself to our ability to increase that support,” she added.

The Watertown Area United Way raised approximately $65,000 in its 2019 campaign and allocated $60,450 in grants to 18 agencies.

Those included the Watertown Family Center, Potawatomi Council of Boy Scouts, Loaves & Fishes, Jefferson County Wraparound Program, Crossroads, Bright Beginnings and Bread and Roses.

In addition, the Watertown organization is supporting agencies that the Fort Atkinson-based United Way also has its partners: Big Brothers Big Sisters of South-Central Wisconsin, Conexiones Latinas, Badgerland Council of Girl Scouts, Jefferson County Literacy Council, Jefferson County Human Services’ Incredible Years Parenting Program, Jefferson County Birth to 3 Program, People Against a Violent Environment (PAVE), Rainbow Hospice Care, Rock River Community Clinic and Your Friends in Action.

Other agencies receiving funds from the United Way of Jefferson & North Walworth Counties in 2020 are: Badgerland After-School Enrichment Program (BASE), Bethel House, Catholic Charities, Community Coordinated Child Care Inc. (4-C), the Dave Gallup Foundation, Hoard-Curtis Scout Camp, Jefferson County Head Start’s dental program, Lake Mills Area School District, New Beginnings APFV, Opportunities Inc.’s vocational training and employment services program, Parents Cooperative Preschool, School District of Fort Atkinson’s Family Connections Program, Small World Preschool, Studio 84, St. Vincent De Paul in Fort Atkinson, the Salvation Army, Whitewater LEADS/Dolly Parton Imagination Library, Whitewater Unified School District Adult English as a Second Language Program and Working for Whitewater’s Wellness (W3).

Through donor designations, 10 additional local organizations will receive funds for 2020.

Altogether, the Fort Atkinson-based United Way is providing $225,675 in grants to its 28 local organizations in 2020.

Hartwick said the United Way will honor the remaining grant payment to the Watertown agencies in December. After that, all agencies will need to apply for funding directly through the merged organization.

The 2020 campaign will be run covering the full service area.

“The Watertown board has done a tremendous job supporting their United Way by building strong, trusting relationships with donors and then providing much-needed support to local organizations,” Hartwick said. “But they have been limited in what they can do, since they all work with United Way on a solely volunteer basis. I am looking so forward to bringing their communities, donors and agencies into our United Way, where we can dedicate staff time to growing in all areas.”

She explained that changes in the county recently have encouraged collaboration and better utilization of resources.

“The newly formed Rock River Community Clinic is a perfect example of local organizations that came together to pool assets in order to more effectively serve their clients, and ultimately serve more clients,” she said, referring to the Jan. 1 merger of the Rock River Free Clinic, Community Dental Clinic of Fort Atkinson and Watertown Area Cares Clinic. “We are so eager to continue that momentum with the merger of these two United Ways.”

The upcoming merger will be the most recent of many milestones reached by the United Way throughout its 77 years.

Organized on Aug. 9, 1943, as the War and Community Chest of Fort Atkinson, it continued to function as an unincorporated fundraising organization and came to be known as the Fort Atkinson Community Chest and United Fund. This was dissolved in February 1963, when the United Fund of Fort Atkinson Inc. was incorporated. The campaign goal that year was $25,353.

The organization had been affiliated with the United Fund of America from its inception and that organization became United Way in the early 1970s. The Fort Atkinson agency continued to call itself the Fort Atkinson Area United Way during its 1973-74 campaign, although the name was not changed formally until February 1976.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the local United Way’s annual campaign grew. In 1985, the first $100,000 goal was set by the board of directors and was exceeded under campaign Chair Steve Zimmerman. Seven years latter, in 1992, with the expansion of the United Way’s local campaign beyond the borders of Fort Atkinson and into the communities of Jefferson and Whitewater, the campaign surpassed $200,000 under the guidance of campaign Co-chairs Vern Falk, David Smith and Carroll Olm. In 1999, yet another milestone was reached when the United Way campaign exceeded $300,000.

Meanwhile, anyone in the Watertown area who would like to become involved with the United Way, or who has questions about the merger and organizational changes, may contact Hartwick at the United Way office at (920) 563-8880 or unitedway@idcnet.com.

Information on the United Way also is available at www.uwjnwc.com and the Facebook page at “United Way of Jefferson & North Walworth Counties.”

For details regarding the United Way’s online volunteer tool, please visit www.volunteermain.com.

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