Serving Barrington the United Way

What is the power of a $100 bill?


story and photo by Ariel Majewski

It could buy 20 cups of premium coffee, 10 glasses of wine at your favorite restaurant, or pay a small bill at home.

Under the stewardship of the Barrington Area United Way, a $100 bill has many tales to tell. Like the time it helped a family recover from a natural disaster. Or when it offered a new bus ride for MS patients who cannot drive to get to their therapy program. This Ben Franklin even watches how blueprints for a local Splash Pad water park turn into a constructed reality for young children and that also includes thoughtful design to support children with special mobility and sensory needs.

Since 1957, the Barrington Area United Way (BAUW) has allocated money to service agencies as a means of supporting the community. As BAUW celebrates its 60th anniversary, it will commemorate the relationships it has with its agencies and their community-impact programs, as well as evolve its organizational strategy to better support Barrington’s needs.

The Barrington Area United Way’s anniversary is unique for a variety of reasons. Starting this year, BAUW is the only remaining Small City United Way in the Chicago Metropolitan Area, meaning that it raises less than $1 million per year. As a Small City agency, BAUW can solely focus on improving the lives within the Barrington community. Out of 1,156 United Ways across the country, 64 percent of those are considered Small City United Ways. “It becomes clear that the fabric of United Way is based on small cities across the country,” Executive Director Leslie Luther said. “And that has been a philosophy or principle of this United Way since its inception—this is a community that is founded on its independence.”

With a revenue of between $300,000 to $350,000, BAUW coordinates with organizations, municipalities, and schools to create grassroots, long-term solutions to problems. “We are no longer the agency that just raises money and funds programs,” Luther said. “And that’s a large difference in how we work as a United Way.”

So how does BAUW pinpoint the problems? For the past several years, Barrington Area United Way has co-funded the Healthier Barrington Community Needs survey with Advocate Good Shepherd. “I don’t know how many communities do something like that—where you’re literally surveying the entire community to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s really going on,” said BAUW Board member Susan Morris.

As a leader in the Healthier Barrington Coalition, BAUW identifies needs in the community, and looks for programs and services to address those needs. Yet up until three years ago, the “basic needs for residents” was a difficult message to get across. So BAUW changed its messaging focus, giving names to these needs. Now BAUW defines them as the three building blocks of life: education, health, and financial stability. The nonprofit organization also promotes a new tagline that sums up its service: What is Raised Here, Stays Here, guaranteeing that 100 percent of donations and funds directly benefit programs within Barrington 220.

“I’m really excited about our messaging,” BAUW President Dee Dee Johnson said. “It’s bringing us to the forefront so people know why they would want to give to us.”

To kick off its 60th campaign year, BAUW has modified its allocation process. Originally, BAUW funded up to four programs per agency—now it will only fund one. As agencies focus on residents’ needs, Barrington Area United Way can create a greater impact for their programs, like the Splash Pad. “We were able to fund the Splash Pad this year at a level of $25,000, which is a large grant for any agency,” Luther said. This 19 feature-packed sprinkler park in the Langendorf pool area will provide opportunities for children with special mobility and sensory needs to enjoy traditional pool and water play activities. BAUW’s partnership with the Barrington Junior Women’s Club for the Splash Pad demonstrates its great potential for collaborative work in the future.

Because BAUW conducts agency site visits, the allocation process also fosters a relationship right from the start. Once an agency applies to BAUW, either board members or community volunteers go to the agency, meet the staff, talk about their programs, and view their facility. “The allocation process is unique for our United Way in that we have as many community volunteers that participate in our allocation process as we do board members.” Luther said. “This is an opportunity for residents in the community.”

Residents like Sam Oliver have this opportunity to learn much more about the community extensively. “[My most memorable experiences are] all that I have learned in more depth about the various agencies and how they perceive their role in the community—how they can help,” Oliver said. “It has really been an education for me.”

The BAUW Youth Board is just as united as the Board of Directors in serving the Barrington community. Under the supervision of Johnson, this philanthropic group of high school students raises funds for children’s services and youth services. They also contributed to Splash Pad through their Battle of the Bands fundraiser for the past two years. At this $5 event, each band has 15 minutes to showcase its music so guests can vote for their favorites.

The students’ boundless energy and contagious smiles will surely raise awareness through their “Be A Lifesaver” campaign, for Tag Days, from September 9 to 10. As Barrington Area United Way’s Board of Directors solicits for funds on the streets, Youth Board members will also be at retail spots wearing life jackets, calling the public to be lifesavers, too.

After spending eight years on the board, Morris notices a valuable trait of BAUW. “There is a tremendous amount of camaraderie as we have had the opportunity to get out into the community with some of the fundraising efforts that we have done.” These efforts include the BAUW 16th annual golf event and Power of the Purse. The golf outing, which takes place at the Chalet Hills Golf Club in Cary, is an opportunity that brings businesses together within the community. With a $150 admission fee, golfers can celebrate the difference they are making while putting the ball. As for Power of the Purse, this luncheon has become a signature event for many women in the community. Six years ago, Power of the Purse was initiated for women to empower other women in the Barrington Area communities. “It reflects the reality that women in our community have a strong impact on economic and quality of life issues.” Luther said.

Agencies that facilitate a women’s program can apply to receive a grant via the Power of the Purse. Each woman who becomes a member of Power of the Purse through a $100 donation is able to determine the recipient of this grant through voting.

Because the winner of Power of the Purse is not announced until the luncheon, it tends to be an emotional event. Last year was no exception as Joy Wagner, the 2016 grant recipient on behalf of the fitMS NeuroBalance Center, heard her program called. “It was quite a surprise. You have no idea…,” Wagner said. “I was so surprised because I knew the other [programs] that were in there and they’re all really great causes. This is something that’s voted on by the ladies who participate in this.”

Wagner educated the luncheon members about how autoimmune diseases may affect 78 percent of women at some time in their lives, about how she was affected by MS and could relate to her patients; and how the grant would allow her to add a physical therapy component to the fitMS services and bring more people together who are struggling with autoimmune diseases in a place of support and community.

There was not a dry eye in the crowd.

“She spoke so gratefully and eloquently that you literally wanted to just write out another check,” Johnson said.

Beyond Power of the Purse, the BAUW has maintained its relationship with Wagner and fitMS. In fact, BAUW funds a major portion of the RIDES program, which offers bus rides to and from the fitMS center within 14 miles for $5 roundtrip. Those suffering from autoimmune diseases or neuromuscular conditions will never have to feel isolated from this health care, research center, and supportive community.

Because of the strong partnership between the two nonprofits, Wagner had plenty to say on behalf of BAUW’s 60th anniversary. “They’re approachable. They want to help, they care about the community, and they care about me,” Wagner said. “I love being part of them, I love that they love being part of us. I learned a lot from them.”

Although BAUW has undergone some evolutionary changes, the organization always looks for more ways to strengthen its leadership. This year, Luther attended the United Way Community Leaders Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. By talking with the CEOs of United Ways located nationally and internationally, Luther could share and learn the best practices. Luther also had the privilege of attending this insightful event without cost. “It’s totally funded by the support of other small United Ways,” Luther said. “It’s an example of how we work to support each other—not only by sharing practices, but by sharing resources.”

As Barrington Area United Way looks ahead to collaborating with agencies and strengthening its leadership for the next 60 years to come, it recognizes the importance of its sponsors. “We are fortunate to be able to have national corporate sponsorships cover all of our general management costs,” Luther said. Locally, BAUW relies on the partnerships with many businesses, organizations, and retailers including Barrington Bank & Trust, and Barrington 220 to insure that local health and human service programs will continue to be funded.

Ariel Majewski is a 2015 QB intern who returned to assist with the 2016 Internship program this summer. She is a sophomore at the University of Illinois in the fall and is majoring in journalism and minoring in piano performance.