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The history of United Way is rooted in partnerships—bringing people from different walks of life together to advance the common good for all.

Origins of the United Way

History- Frances Wisebart Jacobs

In 1887, a Denver woman (Frances Wisebart Jacobs), a priest (the Rev. Myron W. Reed), two ministers (Msgr. William J.O’Ryan and Dean H. Martyn Hart), and a rabbi (Rabbi William S. Friedman) recognized a need for cooperative action to address their city’s social problems. That year, Denver raised $21,700 and created a movement that would spread throughout the country to become United Way.

By the 1950’s, more than 1,000 communities across the United States and Canada had established local United Ways. In 1974, United Ways raised nearly $1.04 billion, marking the first time in history that a single organization raised more than $1 billion in an annual campaign.

More than 124 years after that Denver beginning, there are more than 1,800 community-based United Ways in 40 countries and territories. The United Way movement mobilizes millions in the caring power of communities—to give, advocate, and volunteer—to improve conditions and make a difference in people’s lives.

Orange County United Way

Since 1924, Orange County United Way has been at the forefront of health and human care services in Orange County. While the community has changed over the years, our mission to improve lives and strengthen our community has remained the same, while our model has evolved to even more effectively address key critical issues.

We continue to mobilize the caring power of Orange County—by collaborating with nonprofit agencies, corporate partners, and generous donors—to meet the greatest needs of our community. By focusing on the building blocks for a self-sufficient life—Education, Income, Health and Housing—we improve the lives of our neighbors, coworkers, and friends.

We invite you to be the change you want to see in our community. Join our movement. United We Fight. United We Win. #United4OC.

Orange County United Way Timeline

  • 1924 – First Community Chest in Santa Ana established, paving the way for the establishment of several United Way Funds and United Ways in Orange County.
  • 1960’s – Seventeen independent United Ways in Orange County begin to merge.
  • 1984 – Completed mergers of all local United Ways into one entity named: Orange County United Way.
  • 1984-1991 – Orange County United Way establishes three regional offices in North, South, and West Orange County.
  • 1998 – Regional Offices closed and consolidated into one corporate office in Irvine, with regional presence maintained through volunteer Regional Councils.
  • 1999-2004In addition to supporting leading nonprofit partners, United Way develops key community initiatives to address specific community needs: Success by 6, Somos Familia, Keeping Kids on Track, and Women’s Empowerment Portfolio.
  • 2001Women’s Philanthropy Fund launched as first Orange County United Way Leadership Circle established based on donor interest, and has grown to be a national model for United Way Women’s Leadership Councils. Additional Leadership Circles introduced to galvanize donors based on interests and industry segments within Tocqueville and Leaders’ Society Programs like: Women’s Philanthropy Fund and Women Looking Forward.
  • 2004United Way implements the “Community Impact” funding strategy through highly competitive grant application process with clear focus on Education, Income, and Basic Needs (food, medical and shelter) program services.
  • 2008United Way adopts the LIVE UNITED mantra.
  • 2010Destination Graduation initiative launched. Loyal Contributors Program launched, recognizing donors for their longevity of support to United Way by giving 10 years or more.
  • 2011 – United Way enters into three-year consecutive grant agreement with leading Community Impact Partners. United Way welcomes new leadership, naming Max Gardner (former United Way donor and Board chair) as CEO and President of Orange County United Way. Orange County United Way mission is more targeted to: improving lives by mobilizing the caring power of Orange County to strengthen our community, with a focus on the building blocks for a good quality of life: Education, Income, Health and Housing reframed to best support expansion of our community impact work.
  • 2012 – SparkPoint OC Financial Empowerment Center launched in Westminster at Abrazar. Emerging Tocqueville Leaders Leadership Circle launch Strategic planning process to establish 10-year community level aspirational goals and strategies launched. Destination Graduation program introduced in three intermediate schools (Carr, McFadden, and Spurgeon).
  • 2013 – Second SparkPoint OC Financial Empowerment Center launched in Santa Ana at the Delhi Center.
  • 2014 – FACE 2024 10-year strategic plan adopted after two years of research, community dialogue and volunteer input to maximize and focus our collective resources to make a positive impact and measure community change goals in the areas of Education, Income, Health and Housing.
  • 2015 – UCI and the Orange County United Way co-hosted a summit Oct. 1 on the UCI campus to launch OC Working Together, an ambitious, collaborative campaign to help the region’s less fortunate residents.
  • 2016 – Orange County United Way’s inaugural “FACE 2024 Report” details county’s progress toward long-term goals in Education, Income, Health and Housing along with the challenges ahead.
  • 2017 – United Way announces the appointment of Susan B. Parks as its new President and CEO. Parks is an executive with nearly four decades of experience working in business as well as serving in various nonprofit leadership roles. This includes her significant volunteer contributions as Board Chair and founder of the Women’s Philanthropy Fund.
  • 2018 – United Way launches the United to End Homelessness initiative, mobilizing corporate, philanthropic, non-profit and government leaders committed to the shared goal of ending homelessness in Orange County.
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