In 1986, the Greenbrier County Committee on Aging approached the United Way in Charleston for funding. Its budget was being affected by state and federal cutbacks, and they could not afford to reduce services to senior citizens. The Committee on Aging did not receive any financial support from Charleston, but they were advised to start a United Way in the Greenbrier Valley. The Committee on Aging was a member of the Greenbrier Valley Interagency Council, and so at their next meeting, the seed was planted. It wasn’t long before those at the table agreed that the impending cutbacks would affect many of the local agencies, and that a coordinated fund raising effort, on behalf of all of them, was needed. And what better way than to start a local United Way. After phone consultations with United Way of America, the volunteers received ‘hands-on’ guidance from a West Virginia United Way staff member housed in Charleston. In those days, United Way staff traveling the state were called “Circuit Riders”. Circuit Rider Jim Thibeault worked with the volunteers in the months ahead to establish our local United Way. Because the concept originated from the Interagency Council, to this day, United Way bylaws reserve a seat for the Interagency Council President on the board of directors.
The United Way of the Greenbrier Valley started out with a flurry of activity. Several things were happening that gave us an opportunity to celebrate in style. First, United Way of America was making plans to commemorate its 100th year anniversary. United Way of America was founded in Denver, Colorado in 1886. When it was learned that John Denver was going to be in concert at the West Virginia State Fair, he was quickly recruited as the anniversary spokesperson for United Way. The stage was set. West Virginia state officials, United Way of America, and local United Way volunteers planned a grand celebration – 100 years for United Way of America and the birth of United Way of the Greenbrier Valley. This is how we became known as "the first United Way in the second century".
With the celebration behind them, board members threw their energy into the first campaign. Jim Thibeault was still providing consultation, and he encouraged everyone to ‘think big’. A goal of $60,000 was set. Bold as it was, the volunteers quickly learned some lessons. First, the organization was in its infancy and the public really needed to be educated about its mission and purpose. Second, volunteers were doing all of the work with no staff support. And finally, they had no previous experience in conducting a campaign. As a result, only $8,000 was raised that first year. But they were not deterred!
With a lot of hard work and dedication, slowly but surely, United Way began to grow. After operating for seven years with volunteers, the decision was made to hire an executive director. And what better than to hire one of the volunteers! Gene Meyers was brought on board in 1993. This was a critical move because it finally gave United Way the day-to-day attention it needed to begin growing the campaign. Gene took the helm and stayed with the organization for the next 6 years.
Here are a few more interesting United Way tidbits…
- The first annual United Way golf tournament was held in 1994 and raised $3,405.
- The Valley Leader Society was started in 1995 to recognize individual gifts of $500 or more. Mrs. E. D. Knight chaired the first Valley Leader reception in her home.
- In 1996, the United Way set up office for the first time in the Post Office building in Ronceverte.
- 1997 was the beginning of a 8 year tradition of bell ringing with 50% benefiting the agencies and 50% to the United Way campaign. $7,600 was raised in the first yea, and in 2005, the final year of bell ringing, $18,236 was raised.
United Way is grateful to all of the founding volunteers who have worked so hard to see the organization come to fruition.