Last year during Oktoberfest at Centre Market, Jessica Rine “had a moment,” as she stood looking at the crowds lining the streets.
“This event brought the whole community together,” she said. “And as the United Way, sure it was a fundraiser. But as the United Way and the whole ‘live united’ mentality, that day people from every walk of life filled those streets … networking with each other and coming together as a community, and that probably hit me just as hard as the big check we got at the end of the event.”
That event, a joint effort between the city of Wheeling and the United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley, personified the United Way’s theme — “live united.”
“I think the heart and soul of what we do is that our money comes from local people, local companies, local efforts, local fundraisers,” she said. Then, it is local people who decide what local agencies get the money.
Rine came on board as associate director in January of 2017 and became executive director in April of this year when George Smoulder retired. She was a volunteer on the agency’s marketing committee for about seven years and served on the allocations committee for three of those seven years.
“I was fortunate enough to be able to have him as a mentor for a year, which I understand is very, very rare … but I was fortunate to have that opportunity. George is one of the best men I ever met in my life, so I was very blessed to be able to work [with him] for a year. But that meant that I was only able to experience everything one time before he left,” she said.
So now as she gets ready to kick off the United Way annual campaign, “I’m still saying, ‘how do we do this?’”
DAY OF CARING
The United Way’s annual campaign begins Wednesday, Sept. 12, with the Sandy O’Haver Day of Caring, a volunteer event “to let the public know and the community know that we’re starting a new year of fundraising.”
The Day of Caring is a full day of volunteering — around 250 to 300 people will be out in the community painting, cleaning, fixing, sorting, landscaping, building, etc. This is the 27th year the community has come together for the event, she noted.
“It’s really an inspiring day, and the number of volunteers that we have come out is really impressive,” Rine said.
UNITING THE COMMUNITY
Rine truly is passionate about the organization, what it stands for, what it does and how it helps. She loves the part of her job of bringing the community together, of uniting the community — and Rine throws her heart and soul into it.
“I like that I’m able to do that now. Before I was just an attendee … now I get to be part of bringing the community together. That’s pretty awesome,” she said.
“It’s not only a description of my position here but it’s how I live my life as well. [At] the United Way, we live united because we as a company are bringing all of the funders together, whether you’re … donating $2 in your paycheck or your corporation is donating $10,000 to us or you’re coming and participating in our special events, we’re uniting. We’re bringing all of that money together to focus on health, education and financial stability to fix the biggest issues in the community.”
“We’re using the community’s resources to fix the community. … It takes more than just dollars; it takes feet on the ground. But we can be the dollars to help fund the feet on the ground that are trying to fix the biggest issues.”
THE THREE PILLARS
Some of the 32 agencies that the United Way funds include: the American Red Cross; Brooke County Committee on Aging; Catholic Charities West Virginia; Harmony House; Russell Nesbitt Services; Salvation Army; Sexual Assault Help Center; Wheeling Health Right; YMCA and YWCA; and Youth Services Systems.
Recently, the United Way’s focus has been on specific programs of the funded agencies, programs that address the three pillars. “Our core is health, education and financial stability, so the programs that we are funding within agencies are specific to those three needs, which are worldwide,” she said.
For example, instead of just giving money to Harmony House, the United Way fully funds a person who visits schools, civic groups, coaches, etc., to talk about appropriate and inappropriate touching and how to tell if a child is being abused.
“The reason I find that so compelling is that before I started working with the United Way … my first allocation process was with Harmony House … I think I cried all day. It was so emotional. I’ll never forget — I wish I could forget — some of those stories you hear coming out of places like that. Most of the stories from Harmony House are about how long these kids keep secrets and how damaging, psychologically, that it is for them to hold these secrets in. This preventative position makes it so these kids aren’t sitting on these secrets for a long time.”
Those secrets, she believes, lead to mental health issues.
Rine believes this is the United Way’s inroad to helping in the fight against addiction.
“It will literally help their mental health. What is the problem nowadays? Drug use, addiction, school dropout rates, lack of jobs, unemployment rate … a large percentage of that is from some type of mental health issue. I feel this is an example of how the United Way dollars are directly affecting the drug epidemic.”
Another program close to Rine’s heart is the Seeing Hand Association Inc., which matches people with impaired sight to employment opportunities.
“There was a woman who said she just wants to be like everyone else, and she understands that’s not always possible because she has a disability, but she wants to … have a little bit of spending money. …These people are thrilled to go to work every day.”
When Rine thinks about the disabled population that is served by Russell Nesbitt Services Inc. and the Wheeling Area Training Center for the Handicapped program, tears spring to her eyes.
Through WATCH, there is a program where clients — who likely cannot count — have a wooden block with six holes in it. They fill the six holes with six screws. When the holes are filled, they put the six screws into a plastic bag. These plastic bags then go to a local company.
“It’s unbelievable; it’s sad; it’s inspiring; it’s all these feelings,” Rine said about that particular program. “You’re seeing people through WATCH — specifically people who you wouldn’t think could — hold a 9-5 [job].”
Russell Nesbitt also has Thanksgiving and Christmas parties for its clients. “You go down there and [see them] enjoying themselves. … Your face hurts because you’re smiling so much.”
Some programs target education and financial stability. “Our Salvation Armies are doing a lot to educate people as they come through. Some of the population is transient but the larger portion of the population is our local people [who] fall on hard times, and that’s where we help fill in the gaps,” she said.
Same with Catholic Charities. “For example, they have a program where if they give you utility assistance, they ask you to stick around to go through this program to educate you on how to keep your bills so they won’t be so high next year,” she said.
Other financial stability programs include a nutrition program for seniors, as well as rent and mortgage assistance.
For Wheeling Health Right, the United Way funds a free dental clinic, which is “extremely life-changing,” Rine said.
The United Way funds scholarships for the Girl Scouts and for the YMCA that help youth attend summer camp or other programs that they otherwise couldn’t afford.
“Which I also would argue is a way to fight drug addiction,” she noted, referring to the positive programs aimed at the valley’s youth.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
The United Way collects money via several avenues: fundraisers, corporate donations, individual donations and employee campaigns.
“We have a company that’s done employee campaign payroll deduction with us for years, and they use it is almost like a camaraderie thing in their office. They have a kick-off lunch, they do individual lunches throughout the year that people come to expect, and they to do a silent or a Chinese auction,” Rine said.
Last year, the United Way “crushed its goal,” she said, raising a record high and beating its internal goal by well over $100,000. “George Smoulder went out on a high,” Rine said.
And her goal is to just keep on going higher. “We’ve set a lofty goal this year, a lot higher than last year And the reason was … we saw what we were capable of doing. I want to beat what we did last year.”
She’s also making it a point to “be more public.”
“I’ve made it a personal goal to be physically present in all the counties that we serve. … Once people know what we’re doing and our mission is getting out there, they’re responding to that. … The best thing that we’ve done … is to be more public.”
“I love it,” Rine says about her job at United Way. “Not that I didn’t love my job before [at WTRF] … but if I could pick the part about that job that I loved the most and make it into a new career, that’s what happened. And I do love coming to work every day … I love meeting people and being in the community.
“And I’m really passionate about United Way because its hard not to be.”
- September to Remember Reverse Raffle, with a $5,000 first prize, 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 18, Wheeling Island Hotel Casino Racetrack. For tickets, call 304-232-4625.
- Oktoberfest, noon to 11 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 29. Music, food, beer and more at Centre Market.
• After nearly 38 years as reporter, bureau chief, lifestyles editor and managing editor at The Times Leader, and design editor at The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, Phyllis Sigal has joined Weelunk as managing editor. She lives in Wheeling with her husband Bruce Wheeler. Along with their two children, son-in-law and two grandchildren, food, wine, travel, theater and music are close to their hearts.