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Guest column: United Way planning for future
Guest columnist

By Mary Fuller.

We are the United Way. Since our founding in Savannah in 1938, in response to the Great Depression, United Way of the Coastal Empire has been sustained, generation after generation, by the community for the community, to aid the people who live and work here, through all kinds of storms, at all stages of life. In 1984, the United Way expanded its services and support to Bryan and Effingham Counties starting a more regional vision. Today, United Way provides leadership and infrastructure for responding to the critical needs of our region.

The organization’s positive impact in Bryan, Chatham, Effingham and Liberty counties has been profound. In 2020 alone, United Way’s funded programs and services helped an estimated 200,000 people in our four-county area; serving over 10,000 individuals in Bryan County. Imagine impact like that -- touching more than one in three people – annually and the potential for our future.

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened health and economic adversity in our community and shines a light on the importance of United Way’s mission and service. We provided over $57,000 in assistance to Bryan County COVID-affected residents to help keep their home and utilities on. Despite the limitations of COVID, we convene community initiatives: Bryan County PATH works toward preventing homelessness and advocates for affordable housing in Bryan County, and Bryan Prevention and Recovery supports drug prevention and recovery-support efforts in the county. The needs of our region have never been greater, nor our leadership more important.

Looking forward, United Way will continue to meet the needs of our region with the support of dedicated volunteers, generous donors, and valuable community partners. And it is from here that we begin our strategic planning for the future of the United Way of the Coastal Empire and the people we serve.

Our strategic plan is ambitious. After an extensive strategic planning process engaging more than 400 community members representing all of United Way of the Coastal Empire’s constituencies, the organization is committing to building stronger, deeper, and wider community partnerships. We are elevating our commitment to equity. Through collective action, we seek to make measurable, lasting impact with clear goals and more intentional focus on Safety Net and Upward Mobility.

To that end, our focus on Safety Net programs and services will continue our commitment to the most vulnerable in our community with emphasis on basic human needs such as food, shelter, health, and safety in addition to community disaster response. This is the historical core of United Way of the Coastal Empire’s mission.

Beyond that, we want to help all people to reach their full potential. This means providing pathways for Upward Mobility, with focus on the thousands of our neighbors who have been unable to get ahead, living one paycheck or one crisis away from devastation.

With Upward Mobility in mind, our plan recommends a more explicit focus to include goal-setting in four proposed areas: 1. Quality, Affordable Childcare 2. Ready and Resilient Workforce 3. Financially Empowered Families 4. Safe and Stable Housing

We intend to dedicate the necessary time and resources over the next 12 months to research, analyze and prioritize each of these focus areas; engage subject-matter experts; determine the most impactful, measurable goal; as well as identify the necessary partners, revenue sources and internal staffing requirements and costs. These will be presented to the Board of Directors for approval and advancement as developed.

This community-focused plan will build partnerships across sectors to bring innovation, quality, and the determined measurable results to some of our region’s toughest problems. United Way will need the wisdom and will of key partners, as well as financial support and volunteer leadership from all caring citizens in the Coastal Empire.

That means we need you. We need to hear from people in Bryan County, we need volunteers who will help us move towards our goals, and we need donors to make an impact on the Bryan County community.

We ask you to review our full strategic plan on our website at www. and reach out to us to give feedback, participate in discussions, and actively work towards positive outcomes in our community. Living UNITED, we will strengthen the Coastal Empire region for our children and grandchildren.

Mary Fuller is United Way’s Bryan County Area Director. She can be contacted at

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