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United Way celebrates 100 years in San Diego

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Milestones have no regard for pandemics. They keep coming and deserve to be honored, coronavirus or not. For United Way of San Diego County, it’s a ten-carat diamond anniversary the organization has the honor to celebrate this month: 100 years of service in the community, from its origin as a Community Chest to more contemporary work in literacy with underserved youth around the county, the Earned Income Tax Credit Coalition, and even the Count Me 2020 Coalition, aimed to increase response to the 2020 Census. 

To reflect on its venerable history in San Diego and look to the next century of service, a Virtual Centennial Celebration is planned for October 8, featuring musical performances and speakers as well as opportunity drawings and a silent auction. The hour-long event is co-chaired by Constance M. Carroll, PhD, chancellor of the San Diego Community College District, Jerry Sanders, current president and CEO of San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce (and former CEO of UWSD), and Mark Stuart, CFRE, president and CEO of the San Diego Foundation, which United Way was instrumental in founding in 1975. Event sponsors include San Diego Gas & Electric as the Diamond Sponsor, Solar Turbines as the Platinum Sponsor, and the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority as the Gold Sponsor.  

The celebration’s diamond theme is a nod to both the significance of this impressive anniversary for the organization as well as the location that was originally intended to be the site of an in-person gala: Broadway Pier’s Port Pavilion. Many longtime San Diegans, or Padres fans, may recognize that Port Pavilion’s location on Broadway Pier sits adjacent to where Lane Field and the Padres’ original baseball diamond once was. 

It’s very clear that no one nonprofit can do this alone. We must come together and work together

As the organization’s name implies, it is not through their efforts alone, but in concert with nonprofits and other partners (like school districts and local leadership) that United Way provides assistance to individuals and groups in the community within three primary focus areas of education, income, and health. UWSD’s president and CEO, Nancy Sasaki, recently took the helm in 2018, but she is undaunted by the implications of being the one in charge as the nonprofit sets its goals for the next 100 years. “I think it’s actually the perfect timing for me to have joined the organization, to have two years to get my feet under me and to be clear about what it is that we are doing so we can look at how we establish ourselves, how we ground ourselves, and build on what we’ve had — not completely change in any way shape or form — and be really clear about where we’re headed,” she says. “Especially in this environment, where everything seems upended, where everything no longer feels like there’s a ‘normal.’” 

That ability to adapt to present needs has proven crucial during the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit essential workers, hourly wage earners, and those in already insecure situations especially hard. “What the pandemic has done is really put the spotlight on the disparities,” says Sasaki. “So, even if we knew about them, they really are so highlighted [now], we can’t ignore them anymore.” In response, UWSD created its San Diego Worker Assistance Initiative in March, implemented as part of the greater San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund to assist individuals and families impacted by layoffs and reduced working hours due to the pandemic with livings expenses like utilities, mortgage, and rent payments. 

“Going back to 1920 when we were first started, it was really based on some needs that were happening in the community,” says Sasaki. “That’s what we continue to do, and that’s what we will always do, but how we do that will continue to reflect the needs in the community and how we are adapting to those changing needs.” But collaboration will always be a key element in their work. “It’s very clear that no one nonprofit can do this alone. We must come together and work together,” Sasaki says.

To purchase tickets for United Way of San Diego County’s Virtual Centennial Celebration, visit uwsd.org/tickets.

Featured Photo Shaunta Hyde, Nancy Sasaki, and Barbara Ybarra
Image Credits Photo courtesy of United Way of San Diego County

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