Local United Ways diverse in size, location, but mission is same

One of the many things I like about working for United Way is that we respond to our local needs.

There is not one United Way, but instead, there are about 1,200 across the United States. United Way also exists in 46 nations. While every United Way has similarities, each one is autonomous and locally governed.

In Colorado, there are 14 local United Ways. They are diverse in size and in location, but they all are committed to improving the well-being of their communities by focusing on issues related to education, self-reliance and health.

In 2010, Colorado United Ways generated almost $60 million to support needs in counties across the state. The largest is Mile High United Way in Denver, whose total revenue in 2010 was almost $36 million. The smallest is Logan County United Way in Sterling, which produced just more than $76,000 in 2010 for its community. United Way of Southwest Colorado ranked eighth with just less than $1 million in total revenue.

Despite the size differences, all United Ways in Colorado focus to some degree on education. A key statistic we look at when determining local needs is the high school graduation rate. For the 2010-11 school year, Colorado’s rate was 73.9 percent. The highest graduation rate was in Routt County, where 92 percent of seniors graduated. The lowest was in Denver County, where only 56 percent graduated.

In Southwest Colorado, Archuleta County has one of the best rates at 80 percent. Conversely, we also have one the lowest graduation rates in the state with Montezuma County, where only 64 percent graduate.

Another area where United Ways are similar is in response to poverty. To some degree, all United Ways in Colorado help families and individuals become self-sufficient.

Two key statistics we review are the poverty rate and median household income. Colorado’s poverty rate in 2010 was 13 percent and the median household income was $54,400.

La Plata, Archuleta and Dolores counties’ poverty rates were between 10 and 15 percent, very close to the state average. San Juan and Montezuma counties were slightly higher, between 16 and 19 percent.

La Plata County’s median household income was between $50,000 and $59,000, but Archuleta, Montezuma, Dolores and San Juan counties were all below the state average, ranging from $39,000 to $49,000.

Colorado is generally known as a healthy state. However, there are troubling statistics that United Ways in the state review when looking at indicators of our health.

For example, Colorado ranks 24th in the country in terms of the percent of working-age adults who are not covered by private or public health insurance. Additionally, Colorado also ranks 24th in the country for the percent of adults who reported that their mental health was not good eight or more days in the previous month.

Each United Way in Colorado puts more emphasis on certain issues than other areas do, based on statistics such as the ones above. The ability to focus on local issues by reviewing statewide statistics allows United Way to have a unique position among community problem-solving organizations.

Tim Walsworth is president and CEO for United Way and a member of the Durango High Noon Rotary Club.