The United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania continues to set records in the number of people it helps.
An estimated 480,831 people received assistance in 2018 as a result of United Way programs or collaborations with other agencies, according to the recently released 2018 annual report.
That number represents a 16% increase over 2017, vice president for community impact Julie DeSeyn said.
DeSeyn said there are two main reasons for the growth.
The United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania has grown as a regional agency, incorporating Westmoreland, Fayette and southern Armstrong counties four years ago and Butler County two years ago.
“We’ve been able to consolidate the administrative side and make our organization more efficient and effective,” said Linda Jones, senior vice president for community philanthropy and fundraising.
It also expanded collaboration with corporate and agency partners, volunteers, community leaders and donors, DeSeyn said.
“Our work has changed in that the programs are on a much greater scale,” she said.
For example, the 211 helpline launched in 2011, initially had an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 calls per year. In 2018, the operation grew to include 13 counties and responded to more than 100,000 inquiries for help.
“It’s considerably bigger now,” DeSeyn said. “In addition to calls, it’s expanded to texts, online chat and self-help through website visits.”
With the permission of the user, the 211 service provides notifications on mobile devices about available resources.
“Most people who call 211 need help with basic needs,” she said.
Other highlights from the 2018 annual report include:
• #IWantToWork — An advocacy initiative that helps people with disabilities gain employment and that was instrumental in the passage of two disability-rights bills in 2018.
• Open Your Heart to a Senior — More than 30,000 senior citizens and caregivers were supported by the program, and volunteers logged more than 90,000 hours providing assistance. With 3,208 participants, the program saw a 38% increase in the number of volunteers and an 18% increase in the number of seniors helped.
• 100,000 Books — A program that exceeded its original 3-year goal and provided 121,000 reading materials to children and their families across the five counties. More than 8,500 volunteers gave nearly 9,000 hours to hold book drives, create literacy kits and read to children. In 2018, 9,700 books were distributed to children in Westmoreland, Fayette and southern Armstrong counties.