United Way of Racine County has been helping local families since 1922, when a group of Racine business leaders, headed by H.F Johnson of S.C. Johnson and Son, Inc., gathered to discuss the idea of consolidating all charitable drives in Racine. The Racine Community Welfare Fund was born, with the first combined drive raising $75,000. Those funds were distributed to The Central Association (now Family Service), Boy Scouts, YMCA, YWCA, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, and the Junior League. United Way still funds most of these organizations today.
Over the years, our United Way grew and changed. In the 30s and 40s, United Way was known as the Community Chest and dealt with the Great Depression and war. By the mid-1950s, donations steadily rose above $400,000. In 1963, the Community Chest and Community Service Council merged into Racine United Community Services—$813,000 was raised that year. In 1970, Racine United Community Services joined the national United Way affiliation and became Racine Area United Way, Inc. In 1980, more than $2 million was raised despite unemployment at 12 percent and inflation at nine percent. In 1987, the very first Victory Celebration was held at the new Festival Hall.
In the nineties, United Way became more focused on community building and collaboration, starting with the first needs assessment in partnership with the City and the County. Assessment data helped in setting priorities for funding. The funding process changed from a focus on the agency to a focus on the program. In 1997, the year of the organization’s 75th anniversary, the first campaign over $4 million dollars was raised.
The new millennium brought more changes to United Way. In 2002, Racine Area United Way joined with the Burlington United Fund and became United Way of Racine County. In 2004, United Way convened hundreds of citizens and multiple organizations to lead the community in creating the Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization (or HALO). The United Way office moved from 6th Street to the Lincoln Lutheran Building in 2003. In 2008, United Way of Racine County adopted the LIVE UNITED call to action and began to focus on the building blocks for a good life: education, income and health. United Way also began to expand its community impact work and created the Advancing Family Assets initiative in 2009. In 2012, United Way celebrated 90 years of serving the Racine community and started an early reading proficiency program called Schools of Hope. In 2013, under the direction of campaign chair Tom Burke, United Way reached the highest campaign to date: $5.4 million.
With the dedication of volunteers, donors and community leaders, United Way of Racine County has played many roles throughout the decades. From a fundraiser to a collaborator to a community impact leader, United Way will continue to evolve and grow, and it will continue to focus on advancing the common good and creating opportunities for a better life for all.
View the historical leadership of United Way of Racine County (lists the Board and Campaign leadership, and funds raised each year).