County’s United Way struggles to raise funds

Accusations of financial mismanagement at the United Way’s regional offices are endangering the Prince William chapter’s ability to raise money for local charities, say administrators of area non-profits.

“We had nothing to do with this mess. We had no control over the mess. And now we might suffer the consequences,” said Lindy Garnette, executive director of Securing Emergency Resources Through Volunteer Efforts.

A dwindling of funds from the organization would come at one of the worst of times, Garnette said. With stock prices falling, prospective donors are closing their wallets. And a $1.5 billion shortfall in the state budget may mean cuts for social service agencies.

“It’s a disaster,” she said.

Even agencies and organizations that do not receive United Way funds are used to referring people in need to organizations that do, said Jim Oliver, Manassas’ director of social services.

“None of us can do it all for everybody. Every organization is a thread in the social services safety net,” he said.

At this time, the local United Way chapter is trying to raise $1 million by the end of the year. About 60 agencies in the Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park receive funding from the organization.

Raising money this year has been “a little rough,” said Mark Laskowski, chairman of the Prince William United Way’s fund drive.

The campaign draws a distinction between the organization’s local and regional offices, urging prospective donors to designate money to local groups to ensure that it stays in the area.

“Prince William County residents know what the needs are in their community. And they have a great deal of faith in the local United Way office in Prince William County,” said Laskowski, who is also publisher of the Potomac News and Manassas Journal Messenger.

In recent months, the Capital Area United Way has been rocked with revelations of financial impropriety.

The charity’s top officials, it was found, hid an audit from the group’s board of directors. Norman O. Taylor, the organization’s former chief executive officer, was forced to resign after it was found that he had overspent his budget by $1.1 million.

Garnette, however, has seen a different face of the organization. Last year, SERVE spent $50,000 in United Way funds to help people ready to have their utilities cut off. Another $50,000 helped mothers pay for child care.

United Way provided one-twelfth of SERVE’s $3 million budget. Garnette doubts that SERVE, which recently opened a new homeless shelter outside of Manassas, would have had the resources to raise the money on its own.

United Way’s reputation as an organization that delivers led Bristow-based Benedictine Aid & Relief for Neighbors to sign up last year. Founded in 1997, BARN, at any given time, is providing shelter to about 12 homeless women and their children.

Karen Nottingham, BARN’s community development manager, says any amount of money raised will help.

“The more money we raise, the better off we are,” she said.

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