(NOTE: Due to an editing error, the last three paragraphs of this letter to the editor printed Sunday did not appear. The letter is being reprinted here in its entirety)
On Thursday, contributors to the United Way of Trumbull County during the past 12-month period will be entitled to vote with regard to a historic proposition - whether or not to dissolve our 89-year old United Way organization that has helped tens of thousands of Trumbull County residents directly and through its network of human service agencies.
Along with 38 other members of the local United Way of Trumbull County board of trustees, I recently struggled with the recommendation to advance a formal proposal to dissolve the corporation and, upon similar action by the Youngstown-based United Way, create a new regional United Way corporation. The decision by the trustees to put it to a vote of the entire membership, as called for in the bylaws of the organization, passed only by a three-vote margin. This is certainly not an overwhelming majority. In fact, 40 percent of the trustees voted no or abstained from voting.
At the heart of the matter are questions with yet-unknown answers: Would a regional operation better serve the health and human service needs of our local Trumbull County neighbors? Would a regional organization remove the passion people have for our local United Way and the Trumbull County network of agencies? Past studies suggest that both donations and volunteer service would be diminished significantly. Although I believe that regionalization may be a well-conceived idea for many economic matters, it is not the best or most appropriate means of dealing with human needs or the needs of our local neighborhoods.
The questions are not unique to our Trumbull County community. Throughout Ohio, other United Ways have faced the very same concerns often brought upon by a reduction of contributions during a period of economic uncertainties. In nearly all cases, both similarly-sized and larger communities that have explored a regional United Way concept - Lebanon, Hamilton, Dayton, and Cincinnati - have chosen to maintain their existing operations and to remain as close as possible to their respective neighbors-in-need.
As a community, we all realize that Trumbull County has changed. Certainly, the era of large industrial companies with thousands of well-compensated employees joining to assist their community's safety net of services, peaked years ago. Yet, although contributions are less plentiful, United Way allocations to programs and services are more focused than ever to meet specific community needs. Certainly, collaborations and strategic alliances with both for-profit and non-profit organizations must continue to be explored and implemented, but not at the expense of eliminating our United Way and a trusted community partner.
Can our United Way once again achieve the fund-raising results of the past decade, raising the most of any community between Pittsburgh and Cleveland? It's unlikely in the near term, yet just like our neighboring counties - Ashtabula, Portage, Geauga, Mercer, Lawrence and others - we can strive to be the best smaller United Way community that we can be.
I believe we can improve our own United Way of Trumbull County without merging with our neighbors in Mahoning County.
John B. Taylor
Member, Board of Trustees
United Way of