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United Way to Distribute $1.9 Million More to Local Groups

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Celebrating victory in its annual fund-raising quest, United Way of Ventura County will give $1.9 million more to area charities in the new fiscal year, officials announced Thursday.

The organization, which had set a goal to raise $5.4 million this year, appears to have reached its mark, organization President Sheryl Wiley Solomon said. She declined to reveal how much the agency raised.

“We’re trying to keep that as good news,” she said. “I’m always very nervous . . . the goal is to make goal, and that has not happened in awhile, but I think it’s safe to say at this point that we are not going to be disappointed.”

United Way’s good news comes less than a year after the county branch eliminated a $1-million deficit it compiled in recent years by giving out more money than it had received, she said.

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Previously, agency officials committed money to local charities based largely on projections of annual donations. In several instances, the organization later learned it did not have adequate funds to cover the costs.

In 1997, when the agency’s deficit was identified, five staff members were let go, the agency’s pension plan was frozen and the branch office moved into smaller quarters. Also, the employees’ medical plan was reduced and overall operating expenses cut by 23%.

Solomon decided to shorten the fund-raising year from nine months to what she calls an “intense 90 days,” from September to December, improving the agency’s ability to forecast its annual income and allowing it to spend more wisely, she said.

In a statement released Thursday, the local United Way chapter announced its spending plan for the fiscal year that begins Saturday. The planned $3.9-million distribution is a 39% increase over the $2 million spent last year, the agency said.

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Among the organizations that will benefit from United Way’s financial boon are the Ventura County Leadership Academy, Ventura County AIDS Partnership and the Commission for Children, Families and the Community.

A total of $2.8 million will be funneled into five United Way programs: Youth at Risk received $1,263,754, Health Services $696,737, Crisis Intervention $264,250, Basic Needs $458,199 and Specialized and Senior Services $117,058.

Of the remainder, a little more than $1 million was budgeted for United Way operating costs. The rest is financial insurance against people who pledge donations but do not give, Solomon said.

The corporations that spearheaded the United Way efforts in Ventura County were Procter & Gamble, GTE, Wellpoint and Haas Automation, she said. Officials expect to announce the donations total after the holiday weekend.

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