After years of financial troubles, the United Way of Ventura County announced Wednesday that it has exceeded its fund-raising target for this year's campaign.
The organization has raised $5.5 million in the 1999-2000 drive, marking the first time in five years that it has surpassed its target. In September 1999, United Way officials set a goal of $5,435,000.
Sheryl Wiley Solomon, president of the nonprofit organization, credited the still-booming economy, new campaign strategies and successful company drives for helping to steer United Way back into fiscal health.
"I am extremely excited," said Solomon, who came on board as president in 1998. "I know that there is tremendous generosity in Ventura County."
Solomon said she thinks that the organization has only touched the surface of the financial resources available in the county and that she hopes to raise more next year.
Wednesday's news may also signal a turnaround for the organization that just recently eliminated a deficit of nearly $1 million. The United Way had been giving away more money than it was receiving, leaving it about $974,000 in the red for the 1996-97 fiscal year, Solomon said.
The organization responded by cutting staff, moving into a smaller office in Camarillo and scaling back grants. Last year, the organization came up $200,000 short of its $5.5-million goal.
Renewed stability and this year's success are good news to the 53 organizations and 99 programs across the county that depend on United Way for funds.
FOOD Share, an Oxnard food bank, expects to receive about $46,000 from the United Way this year, up from $35,500 last year. During its financial crisis, United Way slashed grants to FOOD Share by about a third, Executive Director Jim Mangis said.
"When they had to cut the money back, it directly affected our services," Mangis said. "Every dollar that comes back to us really makes a big difference."
FOOD Share helps provide meals to 34,000 Ventura County residents each month, Mangis said.
Local American Red Cross officials were also pleased to hear the news. The Ventura County chapter should receive about $230,000 from the United Way this year, up from $175,000 last year, Executive Director Ann Sobel said. Sobel said the increase means that thousands more residents countywide will receive Red Cross services.
"The needs continue to mount to help people prevent, prepare for and cope with emergencies," Sobel said. "The money we get from the United Way allows us to do our job that much better."
The United Way of Ventura County has been raising money for social service agencies for more than 55 years. The organization helps fund agencies that provide shelter for battered women, care for the elderly, treatment for drug addicts and food for the hungry. Local groups such as the Boys & Girls clubs and the Salvation Army have also received funds from the United Way.
For the second year, United Way conducted its campaign over a 90-day "blitz period" instead of over nine months. Solomon said the shorter period helped sustain enthusiasm, build intensity and ensure that the agency knew how much money it had before deciding how much to distribute to charities.
As a result of the successful fund-raising campaign, United Way plans to distribute $3.9 million to nonprofit organizations, most of which are in Ventura County. Of that, $2.8 million will be allocated to its member agencies.
The remaining $1.1 million goes to nonmember agencies, as well as to three United Way programs: the Ventura County Leadership Academy, Ventura County AIDS Partnership and the Commission for Children, Families and the Community.
"It is very exciting that United Way has risen to the challenge to exceed its goal," said Sobel of the Red Cross. "But they couldn't do that without the support of the community."