The Johns Hopkins Gazette: September 10, 2001
September 10, 2001
VOL. 31, NO. 2


How Your Dollars Are Used by United Way

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

For many, the year can be divided simply into winter, spring, summer and fall. For Judy Peregoff, director of Faculty, Staff and Retiree Programs, there is one more season: the months of the university's United Way campaign.

Since 1991, Peregoff has been the university's behind-the-scenes United Way of Central Maryland administrator who year after year has championed the importance of the organization to the surrounding community and to the various Johns Hopkins institutions.

Peregoff takes great pride in Hopkins' role in the overall United Way of Central Maryland campaign. Roughly 5 percent of the money raised in each of the past 10 United Way of Central Maryland campaigns has come from Johns Hopkins entities. Last year's combined Hopkins gifts totaled $1,934,979, a more than $100,000 increase from the previous year. This year Hopkins hopes to raise $2,050,000 of the United Way of Central Maryland's $45 million goal.

Peregoff also points out that each year scores of Hopkins personnel volunteer a portion of their time to work at United Way-affiliated agencies, whether it be during the campaign's Days of Caring or some other part of the year.

However, for all the campaigns' successes, Peregoff says there are still many people who have misconceptions about what the organization is and what it does.

Founded in 1969, United Way of Central Maryland supports programs and initiatives that strive to improve the lives of people in Baltimore City and the five surrounding counties: Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard. The organization directly funds member human-services agencies, many of which rely heavily, if not entirely, on the dollars they receive from United Way.

Among its more than 250 member agencies are Echo House Multi-Service Center in downtown Baltimore, an after-school delinquency and substance abuse-prevention program; Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland; and Sarah's House, a residential facility in Fort Meade, Md., that provides emergency and transitional housing to assist homeless families.

Peregoff says she knows from occasional notes that she receives from employees that some misconceptions exist about United Way, among them that too much goes to United Way's overhead and that monies do not go where directed.

"United Way's annual report clearly outlines how every dollar is spent; only a small portion is overhead," Peregoff says. "And nearly all the money we give stays local, and that is really important. Occasionally, some people do designate contributions to agencies outside of Maryland, and we certainly honor those, but I feel that United Way of Central Maryland's mission is to build bridges between people who want to help and people who need the help right here in our own community.

Money not designated to a particular agency goes to United Way's Community Safety Net, which is divided into four target funding areas: Investing in Children and Youth, Strengthening Families, Building the Workforce and Responding to Crisis.

Larry Walton, president and chief professional officer of United Way of Central Maryland, says many people also don't realize that it's not staff who decide where the money goes and what agencies get funded but a volunteer committee and board of directors made up of community members and leaders.

"Our responsibility is to as efficiently as possible raise the maximum amount of dollars possible to allocate to the agencies best suited to meet the needs of the Central Maryland community," Walton says. "Often, we are providing for the basic needs of these organizations. We keep the doors open, the lights on and the insurance bills paid. We make sure there is a core group of quality agencies out there that are open every day to help and solve the public's needs."

Peregoff says a concern about donors' money being mishandled resulted from the 1992 scandal involving William Aramony, then CEO of United Way of America. Aramony was convicted of misusing United Way of America funds and sentenced to more than seven years in prison. He is expected to be released Oct. 1.

The year of Aramony's conviction, Peregoff says, the Hopkins campaign total dropped 25 percent because many people couldn't separate United Way of America, the trade organization he headed, from United Way of Central Maryland.

"To some extent, that issue still hovers over the campaign. Some worried, and still do worry perhaps, that their money is being mishandled," Peregoff says. "Yet, people should realize that United Way of America does not provide funding for programs or agencies; it provides training, advertising and promotional materials for all the autonomous United Ways across the country. United Way of Central Maryland is, and always has been, a completely separate entity, and 99.5 percent of the money collected stays in central Maryland to fund local programs."

A more recent issue that has concerned some would-be donors is the June 28, 2000, Supreme Court decision involving the Boy Scouts of America, a United Way-affiliated group. The court ruled that the First Amendment freedom of expression and association allows the Boy Scouts to exclude homosexuals from troop leadership. Peregoff says the issue is a very serious one, and one that has invoked strong emotions on both sides.

"I have received letters from people here saying they will stop giving to the United Way campaign unless they stop funding the Boy Scouts. And, on the other hand, I have also received letters saying they will stop giving if the United Way does stop funding the Boy Scouts," Peregoff says. "The real problem with that is they maybe don't realize that the programs for 53,000 youth served by the Boy Scouts would stop if funding were to stop."

Peregoff adds that the ruling addressed an instance in New Jersey, not Maryland, and that sexual orientation has not been an issue for the Baltimore Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

"Plus, any United Way agency has to sign a nondiscrimination clause," Peregoff says. "Our Boy Scouts do not in any way discriminate, nor do they intend to. If someone chooses not to give at all because of this ruling, the real losers would be the youth who are being served."

Peregoff acknowledges that people have strong convictions regarding other United Way-affiliated agencies, such as Planned Parenthood and Catholic Charities. In Planned Parenthood's case, Peregoff says, although no United Way dollars go toward abortions, the donor can choose to specify that none of their contribution will go toward that particular charity.

"People should always remember they do have a choice for how their money is being used," Peregoff says. "They can allow United Way to use it as their volunteer panel sees fit; designate to one of the four focus areas of the Community Safety Net; or, they can select an agency of their choice, even one that is not on the list."

Larry Walton says it's important for the donor to remember that United Way is not here to make moral decisions for the community.

"We are here to deal with problems that exist, and finding effective ways to deal with those problems," Walton says. "It's not our place to say who is right or wrong."

Two direct services United Way itself provides are the Community ResourceBank and First Call for Help. The ResourceBank provides donated office equipment, furniture and supplies to nonprofit organizations at very low cost. First Call for Help is a 24-hour comprehensive information and referral service in the state that connects people to resources. In 2000, United Way also began an initiative called Success By Six focusing on improving prenatal and early childhood care in several underserved Baltimore City communities.

Peregoff says the best way to find out what United Way is really all about is to spend even a small amount of time at one of the affiliated agencies, whether it be to tour the facility or to volunteer there. In setting foot in one of these facilities, Peregoff says, people will realize that United Way agencies are more committed than ever to long-term solutions rather than to quick fixes. Peregoff cites the Christopher Place Employment Academy, formerly Christopher House, as one agency that espouses this ideal.

"It has gone from a one-night homeless shelter for men to a six-month transitional program that makes sure the person is drug- and alcohol-free, teaches him job skill training and provides him with assisted living and job placement," Peregoff says. "Now this facility is more an answer to an ongoing problem. I think that is what United Way is all about."

Larry Walton asks that any Hopkins employees who have questions about United Way of Central Maryland call its office at 410-547-8000.

Gorgeous weather and high spirits brought staff from the Applied Physics Laboratory out in droves on Sept. 5 to kick off its United Way campaign. Main events included a unique and antique car show and a fierce competition of cardboard boats on the APL pond. Judges, shown checking out a squirrelly competitor, are retired Navy Rear Adm. Skip McGinley, APL Director Rich Roca and Howard County Executive Jim Robey. In the pirate's hat is Mary Lasky, APL chair for the 2001 campaign, whose goal is $550,000.