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In 1887, a Denver woman, a priest, two ministers and a rabbi recognized the need for cooperative action to address their city’s welfare problems. Frances Wisebart Jacobs, the Rev. Myron W. Reed, Msgr. William J.O’Ryan, Dean H. Martyn Hart and Rabbi William S. Friedman put their heads together to plan the first united campaign for ten health and welfare agencies. They created an organization to serve as an agent to collect funds for local charities, as well as to coordinate relief services, counsel and refer clients to cooperating agencies, and make emergency assistance grants in cases which could not be referred.  That year, Denver raised $21,700 and created a movement that would spread throughout the country to become the United Way.

In 1913, the nation's first modern Community Chest was born in Cleveland, where a program for allocating campaign funds was developed.  The Cleveland Federation for Charities and Philanthropies was established in response to several Chamber of Commerce findings: that one campaign would cost only 5 percent of the total raised in comparison with an average of 25 percent among the 61 agencies conducting their own individual fundraising efforts in Cleveland at that time; that 74 people in the Cleveland area were providing one-half of the total money raised in the 61 separate campaigns; and that “unless some equitable force is brought into play to properly distribute charitable funds…some agencies will be bankrupt, others will be laying up a surplus.”

These three findings formed the basis for the modern United Way.  Northern Illinois adopted it in 1919, calling itself the Social Service Federation.  Subsequently, several other name changes took place – Community Fund, Community Chest, United Fund and, finally United Way. 

All three of the successful principles propounded by the initial study of the 1900s exist in today’s United Way of Rock River Valley.  Fundraising and fund distribution costs remain extraordinarily low.  More than 2,000 volunteers working in the campaign keep fundraising costs low.  Over 16,000 individuals and companies throughout Winnebago and Ogle counties contributed last year to United Way.  The community impact process establishes priorities and balances community needs with effective services through the use of a volunteer citizen review process.

Now, more than 89 programs in more than 51 local human service agencies are funded through United Way of Rock River Valley with more than 1 in 4 individuals saying that they have received services from a United Way agency.



United Way of Rock River Valley was founded in 1919 as the Social Services Federation. Volunteers worked to bring comfort and caring to families facing troubled times, as well as guidance and counseling to the youth in our community.

Step One: Invest in the Rock River Valley Comunity

Your gift to United Way of Rock River Valley impacts the entire community. Since United Way looks at the big picture and focuses on lasting change, your gift works to advance the common good by creating opportunities for a better life for all. A panel of local volunteers assess challenges facing our community and award grants to programs based on measurable results. And a 100% of your gift stays right here in the Rock River Valley.

Thank you for choosing to make a positive difference and LIVE UNITED. 


If you would like to donate to another United Way or designate to a specific agency please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


MoveTheMiddleNow dolly-parton United Way 211 Make a difference in our community: Volunteer FamilyWize Drug Lookup Tool
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For thousands of area youth, middle school is the defining moment in their lives. See how United Way and its partners are creating a movement to help middle school students achieve success. Visit www.movethemiddlenow.org.

Parents or guardians of children ages birth to five who are residents of Meridian CUSD #223 can register for Dolly Parton's Imagination Library today!

Don't wait another day. Call 2-1-1 to connect with information on counseling programs and support groups to help you reestablish safety and independence.

This free, easy-to-use tool connects your time and talent with volunteer opportunities from local nonprofit organizations. Search by interests and time availability.

Secure the lowest price on your prescription with this free drug lookup tool from our partners at FamilyWize.

We fight for the health, education and financial stability of every family in every neighborhood