United Way officials urge continued support


An article on a United Way conference in the late editions of The Sun yesterday misstated the amount of donations in the Maryland agency's fund-raising campaign last year. Donations exceeded $31 million.

The Sun regrets the error.

Americans gave at record levels to United Way last year with donations totaling $3 billion, officials of the fund-raising organization said yesterday as they began a three-day meeting at the Baltimore Convention Center.

But professionals and volunteers gathered for the annual

conference said they now face a big task: persuading donors to continue giving at those levels despite the economic crunch.

"Money is shrinking in the midst of the recession and our nation's needs are increasing at a time when revenue is not," said Mel Tansill, spokesman for the Maryland Chapter of the United Way.

"Without human services some communities cannot survive," he said. "The real challenge is to keep people nationwide focused on the need for community services, not just three months out of a year when we are fund-raising, but all the time."

Mr. Tansill said that Americans generally think human services are needed only in urban areas. But many of the problems troubling society are not confined by borders, he said.

"Rural areas are becoming more suburban. People are moving )) from the cities to the country, and they are taking along with

them the problems of drug abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, hunger, elderly care and illiteracy," he said.

In Maryland, where donations last year exceeded $3 million, the United Way formed a coalition of 21 businesses, organizations and government groups, representing more than 100 resources for funding and services.

After holding a series of town meetings, United Way volunteers determined that adult illiteracy, day care for children and substance abuse were the foremost problems facing Maryland residents in both its urban and rural areas.

Mr. Tansill said statistics show that one out of six Marylanders cannot read or write, that nine of every 10 people jailed for violent crimes were abused or neglected during childhood and that more than 400,000 people in Maryland are addicted to drugs and alcohol.

He referred to the "vicious cycle" of family breakdowns.

"If somebody can't read or write, they can't hold a job and they become homeless or start hanging out in the streets. They may

get involved in substance abuse and, then, it's only a matter of time before they wind up in jail," he said.

While the United Way official cautioned that there is no "quick fix," he pointed to the United Way Coalition formed last year as a big step.

As a result of the coalition's efforts, volunteers are teaching hundreds of Baltimore adults to read and dozens of homeless children are provided with day-care while their parents search for work or receive job training.

In some other programs, teachers in Howard County are learning to identify children at risk of substance abuse; women in Anne Arundel County undergoing drug treatment can keep their children with them; dozens of disabled adults in Baltimore County were taught skills and placed in jobs; and elderly Carroll County residents received eye screening to prevent early blindness.

Mr. Tansill called the United Way a catalyst in the community.

"We're trying to put programs in place that will have long-term benefits for the community. . . . We're trying to mobilize a caring America," he said.

"Mobilizing a caring America" is the theme for the conference being held in Baltimore. About 2,000 people are expected to attend workshops ranging from how to obtain funds to how to spend them. The conference ends tomorrow.

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