What Matters Most – Our Community & United Way with Juli McCoy

Today we talk with Juli McCoy, Executive Director at County United Way (https://cuw.org), a community-based organization focused on health, financial stability, and education in the local areas of Alleghany and Garrett Counties in Maryland as well as Hampshire and Mineral Counties in West Virginia.


Male Speaker 1: Welcome to the “What Matters Most” podcast presented by First United Bank & Trust. That’s my bank. Visit us today at mybank.com.

Eric: Hello, and welcome to “What Matters Most”, the podcasts all about finances, community, savings, and security for you, your family, and your business. This podcast is brought to you by the helpful folks at my bank, First United Bank & Trust. I’m your host, Eric Nutter. And in today’s episode, “What Matters Most” is helping our community. And for this helpful discussion. I’m thankful to be joined remotely today by Juli McCoy, Executive Director at County United Way. Morning, Juli, how you doing?

Juli: Doing okay, how are you?

Eric: I’m doing well. Thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it.

Juli: Thank you for having me.

Eric: Yeah. So, we do a lot at First United with United Way. And we thought it’d be a good opportunity to have you on as executive director and tell us a little bit about what’s happening. So and what United Way is and does. So, let’s start there at a really high level. And can you just tell our listeners, what is United Way and what’s the United Way all about?

Juli: Sure. So, United Way is a large organization that is global, it’s a global organization. But the really cool thing about United Way is that it’s when you have a United Way in your community or in your region, it’s all locally managed, it’s all the dollars stay local. And the work is done by local people who are familiar with the issues and the challenges that we’re faced with and just being a part of the community is really important to us. So, we focus on three main issues. And those are health, financial stability, and education. We believe that those three areas are what serve as the foundation for a positive life and for success. In addition to that, we focus on basic needs for individuals and households. So, we at County United Way serve the region, including Allegany and Garrett counties in Maryland, and then Hampshire and Mineral counties in West Virginia. And we have been in the community in the region for over 60 years, we’ve been a part of a lot of changes in the region, we’ve seen good times and bad times for sure.

Eric: Yeah. Absolutely. So, what’s your role there as executive director? How does that work?

Juli: My job is to talk to you and others like you, and to promote the organization to meet with businesspeople and to work collectively with our partner organizations throughout the region. So, other nonprofit organizations that serve the people in our communities, and to just be a part of the community. And I guess, manage the local office.

Eric: Right. So, there are others in local office with you? Or is it mostly volunteerism? Or how do you staff all those needs?

Juli: We have a very small staff for the area that we cover, we have three total full-time people, myself, and then we have a finance manager who’s full-time and her role is to essentially manage the finances and keep all of that in order in terms of our expenses, but also to manage the campaign piece of it and getting that information entered so that we are 100% capable of doing exactly what our donors ask us to do with their donations. And then we have a resource development manager who works very closely with me in terms of going out in the community and meeting with folks and doing certain projects and things like that. We do have a part-time individual who is there on a workforce development program or opportunity that we’ve created. And she’s working part-time learning job skills and building up a resume for herself in the hopes that soon she will be able to gain full-time employment under some form of administrative services.

Eric: That’s cool. So, and then outside of that small staff, everything else comes in the way of local volunteers and support from the local business community and people in the community?

Juli: Yes. And that is where we rely so heavily on our volunteers because we are small and we can only do so much. So, we have committees that help us kind of set the framework of what the issues are in the area, and who introduce us to people and speak on behalf of the organization when they’re out in the community. And we have a board of directors that governs the organization as a whole. And what we’re trying to do right now is sort of rebuild the organization from a committee standpoint in getting marketing and fundraising and those kinds of committees so that anyone that wants to volunteer really has a very specific role in what they’re doing.

Eric: Gotcha. So, and then, because I mean, we’re nearing the end of this year and heading into the next, how do you go about budgeting for that kind of thing? Because I’m assuming you set goals for how much you need to raise in order to be able to help the most people within the community Do you have goals that you set, and you’re just trying to reach those each year?

Juli: We do. We have an internal financial goal that we try to reach every year. And that’s been a challenge because we’ve seen tremendous loss in terms of economic development and businesses leaving, we’ve got a lot of our donor base is an ageing population that is leaving the area because of retirement or who have just fallen away from supporting the organization for one reason or another. And it’s part of our work right now is just engaging a new donor base and engaging the younger populations that are not familiar with United Way. There was a time when people could go into a business and say you were with United Way, and they’d write a check, and you’d walk out and it’s not like that anymore at all. So, our donor population is pretty vast, but we’re working really hard to educate younger donors, potential donors on what we do because we are a very old organization. But I think we’ve done a really good job as a network of staying in touch with what the issues are in the community and kind of framing ourselves in a way that continues to address them in an important way. So, our income and expenses, it’s all driven by those donations, and we operate on a very small budget, very tight, and we make sure that as much as we possibly can give back to the community is done each and every year. So, we operate on a fiscal year beginning July 1. And so, the allocations that we make to organizations, basically, those decisions are based on what we brought in from the campaign the year before.

Eric: I gotcha. Okay. Well, let’s talk a little bit about those ways that you help the community, tell me a little bit about some of the activities that you do, the things that are available, the grants that are available, things like that.

Juli: Sure. So, as I mentioned, we focus on health, financial stability, and education, and of course, basic needs. But we ask…we invite local organizations to apply for grants through us with those focus areas and with an intent of really drilling down and solving an issue. So, our investments this year are pretty evenly distributed among the three areas and really broad areas of service too. We have everything from helping people stay in their homes to emergency dental needs, meals. We’ve got programs that are assisting grandparents in relearning how to parent if in the event that they’re now raising their grandchildren. We are responding to education in terms of providing after school care and programs and even tutoring and even full wraparound services to provide mental health opportunities for people to heal as an entire household. So, a really broad spectrum of things are happening with our investments this year, we actually have 16 funded partners so that basically means that we have 16 different organizations that are receiving dollars from County United Way during this fiscal year. But some of those are receiving dollars for multiple programs. So, how that ends up happening is that we have 23 programs that were operating this year.

Eric: So, essentially some local organization like a nonprofit or some group that’s trying to help a certain segment of the community comes to you essentially asks for the money to help support that cause. And then there’s some kind of vetting process to decide how much and how quickly the funds can be given to them.

Juli: Yeah. And COVID really threw a big wrench in how we operate as far as that process goes, we always have volunteers from the community actually review those proposals and make those decisions. That’s not a decision that’s made by our staff. And that’s one of the things I love about United Way is that it really opens an opportunity for people to be invested in their community and have a voice for how dollars are distributed. And in an area where we have one in three households being reached by United Way that’s a really important role to play if you choose to be a part of that.

Eric: Absolutely. So, anyone can reach out to say they wanna help decision some of those kinds of requests?

Juli: Yes. Absolutely. We will take their name and information anytime throughout the year. And then when we go through that process, we’ll make sure they’re a part of it.

Eric: Wow, that’s cool. So, you mentioned COVID. And obviously that has dominated a lot of the topics that we’ve done on this podcast over the last eight months. And obviously, it’s impacting the function of United Way and the community as a whole. Are there any activities or things that you’re doing or that United Way is doing specific related to COVID?

Juli: Yes. Back in March, we were able to create an emergency fund that allocated dollars immediately to any relief that was needed in the community. And as a result of creating that fund with 100% of the dollars going back to the community, it opened us up to opportunities that we weren’t necessarily expecting. And that was that United Way Worldwide, which is the large part of our organization, the governing entity, they through their connections and relationships with so many corporations across the country, we’re able to obtain grants and dollars from those larger businesses and those dollars actually trickle down into our area here. We received a little over $50,000 in grants that we have been able to distribute. In the very beginning, we had a lot of food requests, there were a lot of people who were suffering from that what we call food insecurity. Just as we were all facing challenges with getting food and figuring out how to navigate that kind of thing with everything shut down and trying to find a time to schedule a pickup for food and folks just not knowing where to go. We had a lot of our food pantries across the region are managed by wonderful caring elderly people who just were not…it was not safe for them to have them open. So, we had to work very quickly to establish a list a good list of where food could be accessed for folks. So, food and hygiene were big pieces of that puzzle in the very beginning. Now, we’re kind of facing a situation across the region where rent and utilities are a challenge, trying to get people caught up on that and making sure that we’re responding to it in a way that makes a big impact and we’re able to do that through partnerships with our agencies. So, still working very hard related to COVID. But at this point, it’s kind of one day at a time.

Eric: Yeah. So, you mentioned a lot of individual instances of supporting people with dental needs and housing and after school care and mental health and things like that, are people coming directly to United Way? Or you’re learning of these needs through the other organizations that you’re supporting?

Juli: A lot of times how this works is that we do sometimes get direct calls, historically, it’s been we don’t provide direct services, we do that through the investments that we make through our donors, and the agencies that are the experts at that, and the boots on the ground are able to handle it. But I’m really proud to say that when we do get a call in our office, we often look at it as this is an individual’s last straw. They’ve been through the wringer. And they’re desperate. And sometimes when that happens, we are able to navigate the system for them. And we pull out all the stops in order to give them a call back and say this is who you need to call and they are going to help you. And so, we pride ourselves in that. We do operate a hotline through our office through 211, which is the national hotline. We answer calls for Minerals and Hampshire counties through that hotline. And so, we’re oftentimes navigating and finding as much information as we can in West Virginia, while also trying to stay on top of what services and programs are available in Maryland. But United Way is changing a little bit in the way that we do our work. And so, direct services are not necessarily something that is becoming out of the question anymore. We do operate the Dolly Parton Imagination Library for Allegany County. And that’s a free book for children from birth to five years old, they get an age appropriate book every month. So, they build a library while they’re growing up. And so, we operate that program out of our office. And we take things as they come sometimes we get some really unique issues that come our way, but we work our way through the [crosstalk 00:17:29.285].

Eric: Of course, activities like that, like the Dolly Parton piece, or any of the other education stuff, the bus kind of activities that you’re a part of, or that you put on, is there a way… How do people find out about those? How do they know that that’s happening next month or next week or whatever?

Juli: We have a pretty substantial list of people that we’ve collected, we’ve collected people that we’ve got their contact information. And so, a lot of times, if we need volunteers, and we have something coming up, we will reach out through that listserv that we have developed. And we’re very fortunate to have a good relationship with different radio stations that broadcast for us about do things just like I’m doing right now, they’ll record public service announcements and radio programs for us to talk about kind of what we have coming up both in the near future and in the distant future, just to prepare folks, but we do a lot on social media, specifically Facebook, we post a lot on there about events that we’re having and volunteer opportunities. But one of the biggest, I would say ways that we get information out is through our agency partners, and through our local business partners that have continued to invite us in and be a part of their business and serve as one of their main philanthropic choices in the community. And so, sharing that information with employers and allowing… We have a lot of employers in the area that, First United is one of them, that is so gracious to give employees opportunities to volunteer their time when we need them.

Eric: Yeah. We’re happy to be a part of that as we also have our annual golf tournament to really help raise some funds for United Way as well. So, we just finished that up. It was a little different this year with COVID. But we managed to help out there still too, so that’s always fun to do.

Juli: Yeah. It sounded like Janet pulled out all the stops to make that happen. We were a little surprised that she was able to do that, but it was so grateful that we had participants and everything to make that happen.

Eric: Absolutely. She’s a rock star. So, how can people get involved? Do they just reach out directly to you if they wanna…or through your website, if somebody wants to get involved and help out or donate?

Juli: Yeah. We just added on our website an opportunity for folks to sign up for our news and information, which is that list I was talking about. We don’t send information out constantly. We’re not trying to spam folks in email. But when we feel we have important information to share, we send it out through that. So that’s a great way to kind of stay in touch with what’s going on. Definitely on Facebook, you can search us at County United Way. And we do have our website at cuw.org that has some information. So, and of course, reaching out to our office is one of the best ways if there’s an immediate question or need. Anybody can reach out anytime there.

Eric: Excellent. All right. Well, Julie, thank you so much for joining me today. It’s been such helpful information, I hope people can take advantage of this and reach out and help out as much as they can because especially in times like this, we all need to help each other as much as we can.

Juli: We do and that’s why we’re here.

Eric: If any of our listeners have a question or wanna learn more, what’s the best way they can reach you?

Juli: They can call our office at 301-722-2700. There’s almost always somebody there.

Eric: Excellent. All right. We’ll include that phone number as well as the website in the show notes. And Juli, thanks again. Really appreciate it.

Juli: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Eric: That brings us to the end of our show. You can always find more episodes by visiting mybank.com/podcast, or find us on your favorite podcast app. And we’re on basically every podcast app, so you could find the one that works for you, subscribe, and give us a five-star review so that other people can find this helpful content like Juli provides today. You can also leave feedback, ask questions, or request a topic for us to discuss by sending an email to podcast at mybank.com thanks again for listening. We’ll be back next week with more helpful content. But until then, we wish you the best in focusing on what matters most to you.

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