United Way of Beaver County Sets $775,000 Goal for Annual Campaign

This article was written by Jared Stonesifer, courtesy of the Beaver County Times

HOPEWELL TWP. — Jordan Leheny was only one of 130,000 people in Beaver County impacted by the local United Way last year, but his life is a testament to the power of community togetherness and teamwork.  Leheny, 26, spoke at the United Way of Beaver County’s annual breakfast Thursday morning in which the agency kicked off its new fundraising campaign.

The agency raises and distributes hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to dozens of county nonprofit and human-services agencies ranging from the Beaver County Association for the Blind to the Salvation Army to the Mental Health Association.  In addition, the local United Way provides funds to agencies that assist needy residents with things such as rent, utility bills, food and furniture.

For Leheny, who’s spent the last seven years with the Beaver County Rehabilitation Center, the financial support from the United Way has made a world of difference.  At the rehabilitation center, Leheny has been taught a bevy of life skills, from cooking and financial planning to navigating public transit and developing employment skills.

Leheny said he was terrified at the prospect of riding public transportation for the first time. When he voiced those concerns, staff at the rehabilitation center had a simple solution: They rode with him on the bus until he was comfortable doing it alone.

That’s only one example. Leheny said he never thought he’d be able to hold down a job, or make new friends. Through the rehab center, he’s done all of that and more.  “I used to be so scared at the thought of work, and not just because I’m lazy,” Leheny joked. “I’m no longer scared and I’m able to go out and earn an income.”  Through the rehab center, Leheny said he has “learned new things and made new friends.”

The local United Way last year raised more than $877,000 during its fundraising campaign, which typically runs from September to June. The amount raised last year smashed the goal of $750,000.  At the breakfast Thursday morning, United Way Executive Director Mike Rubino said this campaign’s goal is set at $775,000. About 215 people packed into the Club at Shadow Lakes in Hopewell Township for the event.

Despite that goal, there has been talk of a “march toward $1 million” given last year’s impressive campaign.  Jack Manning, the executive director of the Beaver County Chamber of Commerce, served as the keynote speaker at the event and spoke about the “profound” impact the organization has had on his life.   Manning, who donated right on the spot after his speech, said he would love to see this be the year the local United Way breaks the “$1 million plateau.”  The chamber director said he’s been working with the United Way for more than 40 years, and the organization has taught him the value of both optimism and empathy.

He became emotional when speaking about the impact the United Way has in his life. Manning has seen firsthand, many times over, the direct impact the agency has on the needy and underserved in the community.  His father always told him that people owe more to their community than simply paying taxes. They owe their time and even money toward making it a better place for everyone. “These are people aren’t looking for a handout; they’re looking for a hand up,” Manning said.

Rubino said the record-breaking fundraising last year has left him extremely hopeful for the future, but there are looming concerns. He specifically cited the uncertain future of FirstEnergy Corp., which owns and operates the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station and the Bruce Mansfield Power Plant.  The company has said it could either sell or deactivate those plants as FirstEnergy moves to exit the power-generation business in Pennsylvania. If one of those options comes to fruition, more than 1,000 employees could be affected.  Rubino said FirstEnergy’s donations alone comprise 15 percent of the local United Way’s budget. FirstEnergy was responsible for $115,000 given last year, both through employee and corporation donations.

“I’m a little nervous” about FirstEnergy’s future in Beaver County, Rubino told the audience.  Despite that, Rubino said he remains committed to again smashing the fundraising goal set Thursday morning. The local United Way has already received an anonymous $75,000 matching gift, which will only go toward the fundraising total if matching donations are made.

As Rubino said, no donation to the United Way is too small.  “Every dollar counts,” he said.