Focused Care Areas:

Serving Cumberland, Dauphin and Perry counties in Central Pennsylvania.

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United Way Timeline1920's 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s Recent Years 1930s

Our History

Since 1921, our neighbors and friends living in Dauphin, Cumberland and Perry counties have relied on the services and support of United Way of the Capital Region (UWCR). From the beginning, UWCR has been changing lives and addressing our community’s most pressing needs. While our methods have evolved, one thing remains constant: our commitment to helping those who need it most. This is how we LIVE UNITED.

What follows is an overview of our work by decade.


In 1921 the Harrisburg Welfare Federation (HWF) was created. The first campaign raised $246,899 from approximately 11,000 donors for 21 member agencies. Gifts ranged in size from 10 cents to $4,500. Requests from agencies included funds to purchase coal to heat a nursing home and money for Girl Scouts to buy camping equipment. Also that year, a housing committee was formed to bring together public and private leaders to deal with the poor housing conditions in the City of Harrisburg.


Between 1930 and 1931 more than 1,000 additional families requested assistance from the HWF, bringing the total number of families served to 1,900. In 1933, during a time of great financial hardship in our country, the HWF fell short of its campaign goal of $229,929, raising $196,896. The Federation asked agencies to accept a ten percent reduction in their allocation of funds. In 1936, the HWF collaborated with other groups to form the Council of Social Agencies, an organization created to study social needs.


War relief efforts served as the focus for most agencies during the first several years of the decade. Due to the confusion generated by large scale public welfare programs, the HWF changed its name to the Community Chest sometime between 1941 and 1942. By the end of the decade, the Community Chest increased its focus on the well-being of children and families.


Throughout the 1950s, many community leaders in the Capital Region were concerned about the multiplicity of local campaigns. In response, the Community Chest changed its name to the Tri-County United Fund in 1955.


More and more agencies applied to join the Tri-County United Fund network during the 1960s. Many agencies, struggling to meet the demands of increased need, began holding their own fundraising campaigns.


In June, 1972, Hurricane Agnes ravaged the Capital Region. The Tri-County United Fund responded with both volunteers and financial support. Volunteers provided emergency housing and food, counseling for flood victims and assistance with clean up efforts. The organization launched the Flood Restoration Fund Drive and raised $250,000 to help repair agencies impacted by the flood. In 1975, the Tri-County United Fund and the Council for Human Services merged to better serve the needs of the community. Later that year, the organization became the Tri-County United Way.


With the help of a $1,000 grant from the Greater Harrisburg Foundation (Foundation for Enhancing Communities), the Tri-County United Way completed a strategic plan in 1982 to guide the organization’s work over the next five years. Between 1987 and 1988, the organization adopted a policy on AIDS, the first such policy developed nationally by a local United Way. The policy encouraged participating agencies to provide information, education, advocacy programs and services to those diagnosed with AIDS and their families. In 1989, the Tri-County United Way was renamed United Way of the Capital Region (UWCR).


Issues surrounding housing had a significant impact on the Capital Region during the 1990s. To help meet this need, UWCR became involved in every phase of the homeless cycle to include emergency, domestic violence and natural disaster shelter, bridge and transitional housing, as well as long-term, affordable housing. During the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991), UWCR established a telephone hotline to help families of military personnel secure food, clothing and counseling. The program was extended to displaced workers when plants closed and workers were laid-off as a result of the War. In 1996, after a flood devastated the Capital Region, UWCR brought together service providers to ensure a coordinated response to the emergency. United Way funded agencies went above and beyond traditional services to meet the needs in our community brought on by this natural disaster. Also in 1996, UWCR launched its “Success by 6” program to help all children be prepared to enter school at age 6. The program was renamed the Early Childhood Initiative in 1999. In the final years of the decade, UWCR redesigned its fund distribution system to provide funding to programs not agencies.

A New Decade Begins!

In March of 2000, United Way’s headquarters at One United Way in Harrisburg was destroyed by fire. UWCR moved into temporary housing in Harrisburg and sold the building. In 2002, UWCR’s current headquarters opened in Enola.

September 11, 2001 - In response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, UWCR helped mobilize community support through a special fund established for victims and their families. Members of our community donated more than $400,000 to the fund, which UWCR administered at no charge to donors.

In 2003, UWCR began a three-year transition from an annual fundraiser to an organization with a measurable impact in the community. To this end, UWCR created Focused Care Councils in 2004 to address five areas of critical need in our community: children and youth, families and seniors, disease and disabilities, emergency food and shelter, and strong and safe communities.

In 2006, UWCR conducted a comprehensive survey of housing in Perry County, which showed a significant lack of affordable housing in this area. As a result of this study, the Perry County Housing Partnership Board was formed, and received its non-profit status with the help of UWCR. The following year, UWCR completed the Capital Region’s first comprehensive study of the needs and assets of the Latino community. Study responders cited several problems to include lack of formal information sharing, no one organization to fully unify the Latino community, and the need for educational opportunities for youth and improved employment and training programs. Study responders also identified faith-based organizations as sustainable resources within the Latino community who could serve as potential partners in meeting the needs identified in this study. To help find solutions to the issues, UWCR began a grant program for services to the Latino community.

During much of 2008 and 2009 the challenges of a tough economy hit the Capital Region. UWCR program partners reported a substantial increase in demand for services. To help the community, UWCR launched a Basic Needs Fund campaign and raised more than $60,000 for program partners struggling to provide basic necessities to those in need. Despite the challenging economy, UWCR reached a milestone in 2008 by raising more than $10 million to help the community. The following year, UWCR launched its Corporate Cornerstones initiative. Through this program, 100 percent of the money UWCR raises and distributes from individual donors in our community through our Capital Region campaign is directed to programs and services.

Recent Years

In 2012, United Way of the Capital Region consolidated their five focus care areas into three – health, education and basic needs, aligning more closely with those of United Way Worldwide.

In 2014, United Way added another area of focus – income – because health, education, income and basic needs are the building blocks for a better life for us all. United Way of the Capital Region also announced a new strategic direction to guide its future work. This “road map to the future,” includes a new approach called collective impact. Collective impact requires that everyone work together in partnership – businesses, schools, places of worship, foundations, government, non-profit organizations - to find new and different ways to address challenges facing our community and develop lasting solutions. United Way is currently conducting an assessment of our community and will announce the findings in early 2015.


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