United Way of the Midlands has a rich history in the Omaha metro area. We’ve been here through times of prosperity and economic downfall, and have helped ensure that health and human service programs were able to serve those in need at all times. For more than 90 years, we’ve worked alongside community leaders, volunteers and companies, and have grown to accommodate the ever-changing needs of our society. Our community is a strong one and we have been dedicated to making lasting change yesterday, today, and well into the future.
The Early Years: 1923-1943
United Way of the Midlands began in a very different time. Calvin Coolidge had just become President of the United States and the country was 5 years out of World War I. It was in 1923 that local citizens and community leaders banded together to create United Way of the Midlands’ prototype, The Community Chest. We were, and still are, dedicated to responding to the community’s needs, allocating dollars to local health and human service programs that make the most impact. In our first year, funds were allocated among 30 participating nonprofit agencies in Douglas County.
While still in our infancy, the Great Depression swept the nation, causing the level of need for local individuals and families to reach new heights. The relief requests were overwhelming, requiring the struggling Community Chest to borrow money to meet the needs of our agencies. Through those rough times, we were able to continue to provide for local programs, raising funds from across the community to help ease the strain of the economic climate.
With the introduction of federal relief programs in 1933, the Community Chest changed it’s focus to those unable to receive government relief. It was a time of recovery and growth for the organization, and we saw increases as local families began to feel a strain from World War II.
A Time of Growth: 1943-1963
Throughout the second World War, the Community Chest continued to see an outpouring of community support. We continually exceeded our campaign goals during and directly after the War, proving how strong the Omaha community can be in times of need. In 1950, we were one of the few communities to pioneer a national model for a single organization dedicated to all facets of nonprofit fundraising. This new model combined fund-raising with budgeting, planning and allocations – all with one board of directors. We began calling ourselves United Community Services.
The goal was to make it easier for local donors to make a difference at a variety of nonprofits with one gift annually. We began really looking at the needs in the community and, in 1956, initiated a $2 million capital-fund drive. The drive was the result of an analysis of the 5-year needs of our agencies, and an effort to meet those needs. United Way continued to grow in the community as we increased our role with fundraising and allocations to local programs serving the most needy.
A New Name: 1963-1993
In 1966, volunteerism was added to the mission of United Community Services, thereby increasing the community participation in our cause. A volunteer Citizens Assembly was created to encourage volunteerism within the community, getting local people and companies involved with partner agencies and funded programs.
In 1975, we became United Way of the Midlands. United Way’s across the nation were continuing to grow, reaching most communities. Here in Omaha, we focused on connecting the metro area under one United Way. In 1981, we combined forces with the United Way of Council Bluffs, ensuring that the whole metro benefited from United Way donor funding. In 1987, we began jointly fundraising with the Community Health Charities of Nebraska.
United Way Today: 1993-Present
Throughout the 90’s, 2000’s and today, United Way of the Midlands has remained an important part of the Omaha-Council Bluffs-Bellevue metro area. Since World War II, donors have given over $548 million to United Way of the Midlands, giving families, children and seniors the assistance they’ve needed for over 90 years. We’re proud to be a part of such a thriving community and we’ve enjoyed growing alongside it.
In 2012, United Way of the Midlands began a Strategic Planning Process aimed at evaluating how we can make the most impact with United Way donor dollars in the metro area. From the process, a Community Assessment was born. United Way spoke with the community about what the most pressing needs are across the city, with Phase 2 beginning in early 2014. 2013 also saw the introduction of a new funding review process, matching local volunteers and business leaders into teams to evaluate United Way funded programs and make allocation decisions. With each step, our goal was to show how strong our community can be when local donors, companies and nonprofits work together to impact the future of our great city.
From this robust process, our future priorities were formed. United Way of the Midlands continues to fund Basic Needs, a commitment we’ve made to the Omaha metro area since our inception in 1923. In addition to this continued support, we will create life-changing opportunities through programs that support children during their academic years and help prepare young people for productive careers. It’s our commitment to the community that we will continue to make a difference in the lives of many. Together, with local donors, companies and organizations, we are Community Strong.