The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 4, 2013

Community support

Helping United Way of Southern West Virginia expand its area of service is the right thing to do

—  The long-running controversy over the management of the United Way of the Virginias based in Bluefield has reached its inevitable conclusion with the worldwide board revoking the chapter’s membership.

In 2008, the United Way of the Virginias lost its tax-exempt status and state licensing, which are requirements to solicit and accept charitable donations. State officials cited poor record-keeping.

Yet the extent of the problems at the charity did not become public until October of last year. The West Virginia Secretary of State’s office cited the charity after it apparently failed to register with the IRS or the state of West Virginia as required.

That month, the executive director of the United Way of the Two Virginias, Michelle Carter, resigned. The local chapter then announced it would attempt to recover its tax-exempt status and restore it’s credibility. It had stopped taking donations but could not recover from its self-inflicted problems.

The action this week by United Way Worldwide’s board of directors is a positive development in the unfortunate saga.

The mismanagement at the United Way of the Virginias and the airing of its difficulties, not surprisingly, threatened to have a negative impact on other United Way chapters in the region. Unfair or not, the public image of the worldwide charity may have been diminished in the eyes of some donors.

The positive contributions of United Way chapters in West Virginia are apparent. They are critical providers for those families in our communities who have fallen on hard times.

The fact the need is so great is an example to us all that government, no matter how well-funded and well-intentioned, cannot reach deeply enough into our communities to take on the tasks the United Way performs.

The United Way of Southern West Virginia, based in Beckley, serves 34 nonprofit organizations in five counties. From aiding troubled families to homeless services to food pantries to helping the elderly and women and children, it is the United Way that walks where government does not.

At this time, the United Way of Southern West Virginia needs our help even more. Because it is taking on an even bigger job by being tasked to fill the now empty charity role in two more counties.

“The United Way Worldwide has asked us to serve the communities of Mercer and McDowell counties, including the town of Bluefield, Virginia,” said Margaret O’Neal, executive director of the United Way of Southern West Virginia.

“This is all in the early stages, and our primary focus will be on serving the needs of those communities.”

Over the years, the United Way of Southern West Virginia has done much to ease the distress of many in our communities in their time of need. Now, they are tasked with restoring the confidence of donors in Mercer and McDowell counties.

We urge everyone in those counties to share some of their generosity this Christmas season by donating to the United Way of Southern West Virginia as they expand their area of service.

Helping the United Way is the right way.