The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

State News

December 11, 2013

United Way and agencies meet to discuss the future

BLUEFIELD — Moving ahead and meeting human needs were agenda items Tuesday when officials with two United Way agencies met with leaders of local human service agencies to talk about what happens after the dissolution of the United Way of the Virginias.

United Way Worldwide removed the United Way of the Virginias from its membership Dec. 2 due to the agency losing its tax-exempt status, said Jenny Palazio, director of membership accountability for United Way Worldwide. In October, it was learned that the local United Way had not filed the necessary documents since 2008 with the State Attorney General’s Office to maintain its nonprofit status. The executive director, Michelle Carter, later resigned.

Agencies within the counties served by the local United Way are being directed to a pair of neighboring United Way agencies. Mercer and McDowell counties will be with the United Way of Southern West Virginia. In Virginia, the counties of Bland, Buchanan and Tazewell will be with the United Way Virginia Highlands.

The new agencies are working to address the needs of human service agencies in their new areas, the directors of both United Way organizations said.

“We were five counties before, and we’re seven counties now,” Executive Director Margaret O’Neal of the United Way of Southern West Virginia said. “We’re here to help. We’re here to find out what your needs are.”

There are plans to conduct a fundraising campaign for 2014, O’Neal said. Another goal is to determine the needs of the new member organizations, what funding is needed to keep them in operation, and whether an earlier fundraising campaign is necessary.

“Our goal is try to try to keep everybody functioning for next year,” O’Neal said.

The United Way’s focus is to help people have shelter, clothes and food.

“In the last few years, the United Way has really tried to focus on the three key things that make those things happen. That’s health, education and income.”

The United Way organizations are working to learn how they can aid the organizations in their new area, the executive directors said.

“We are very much looking forward to serving this community: Bland County, Tazewell County, Buchanan County,” said Chief Executive Officer Travis Staton of the United Way Virginia Highlands. “We have been working very hard in the last few days and weeks on what our strategic approach is going to be.”

Staton added later that his agency plans to host public informs in each of the three counties to receive public input and learn more about the counties’ needs.

When asked how the United Way of the Virginias could have lost its tax-exempt status and corporate status, Palazio said each United Way is responsible for maintaining its status. The organization’s board was made up of “good people who are volunteers,” she stated.

“They were good people who trusted, but didn’t verify,” Palazio said.

Donations sent to the United Way of the Virginias recently could not be deposited. O’Neal advised donors who had questions about how the situation impacted their tax status to consult a tax professional.

Donations have been held, and the board is working to redirect them to the new United Way organizations to help support the local agencies, said Scott Browning, the board’s treasurer. The directors are still working on the organization’s final dissolution to see what funds are left.

Checks from donors could not be deposited due to the loss of tax-exempt status, said Gary Denardo, the board’s president.

“We’re going through the charities (department) of the Secretary of State’s Office to dissolve, and we have put in several calls for our final steps and had no return calls,” Browning said.

Palazio said there were no plans for any legal action since United Way Worldwide has severed ties with the United Way of the Virginias.

The breakfast meeting was sponsored by Frontier Communications and Appalachian Power, O’Neal said.

— Greg Jordan is a writer for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph

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