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Reflecting on 100 Years of United Way Bay Area

June 29, 2022

By Kevin Zwick, CEO

This year, United Way Bay Area is celebrating a century of impact, united for equity as we mark our centennial. That means, of course, that our work — to build an equitable Bay Area where all people have the opportunities and resources we need to thrive — started long before me and must continue for decades to come.

As I reflect on our first century and envision the one ahead, I find myself looking back on my personal and family history. I am the product of four generations of union members. I learned from them that we are more powerful when we stick together. And, most importantly, I learned that everyone deserves to be treated fairly. That has always informed my personal path as it has intersected with United Way Bay Area over the years – from working at a food pantry in Oakland, to community organizing in San Francisco, to creating affordable housing in Silicon Valley – at each point, United Way Bay Area was also there, inspiring and uniting the community to support the same families we were helping. And now it is my honor and privilege to lead United Way Bay Area into its next century of impact in partnership and collaboration with all of you.

As we celebrate these first 100 years of impact, I invite all of you to reflect on what being “united for equity” means to you. 100 years ago, our region, and much of this country, was experiencing an extraordinary period of prosperity as the Roaring 20s triggered an economic and cultural renaissance, resulting in a dramatic increase in middle class households. On a single income, many were able to afford a home, buy a car, build savings, and pay for college – the list goes on.

Today, this century’s “20s” are far from roaring for the 600,000 Bay Area families who struggle to meet their basic needs. To make ends meet, a family needs to earn at least $110,000 per year, yet two adults working full-time at minimum wage barely make half of that. The math doesn’t add up, indicating clearly that poverty IS NOT a deficit of talent or character or hard work. It is hard to get ahead when you’re struggling to get by.

But we live in a place renowned for our spirit of innovation and leadership on social progress. From the cultural revolutions of the 1960’s and 70’s to the transformational technologies that continue to be born in our backyards, we can harness innovative thinking and a propensity for progress to solve the issues keeping our neighbors from sharing in this region’s immense prosperity.

That’s why it is so important that we pause and take stock of our work over the past century.

United Way Bay Area continues to be hard at work and going strong – ready to help families and individuals struggling to meet basic needs, assist students and workers seeking employment and better careers, support our neighbors working to achieve financial stability, and advocate for housing justice for all Bay Area residents.

Together, United Way Bay Area and our supporters are making sure that everyone who calls the Bay Area home has a way to stay in the Bay Area. I want a place my children and their children can call home; and I want a place where everyone’s children can grow and thrive. If we don’t make efforts to keep the Bay Area affordable and equitable, with good jobs and quality education, where people’s basic needs are met, we’re going to lose the core of what’s so special about living here.

As we celebrate 100 years of impact, we want to THANK YOU. Last year alone, we helped over 880,000 of our neighbors get the support they need to meet their basic needs, seek better careers, stay housed, and work to achieve financial prosperity!

For 100 years, and with the support and generosity of so many of you, we have embodied a unique spirit of community and collective action. Though the work started before any of us, the work WILL CONTINUE.

United Way Bay Area is ready to launch our next century of impact. We recently approved a new three year strategic plan, charting a course to help one million people meet basic needs and access pathways to prosperity. This will require a 20% increase in fundraising each year for the next three years. The challenges are many, but I know we can meet this moment, when our neighbors need us more than ever.

We will expand our work regionally in communities throughout the Bay Area that are most impacted by systemic racism. We want to show up in the best way we can in all 8 counties we serve – from Solano in the north, to Santa Clara in the south. We want to be there to help all communities, particularly those that have been left out or left behind and those that have been persistently and historically racially marginalized.

In a region grappling with homelessness and housing costs that most Bay Area workers cannot afford, we understand that we can’t fight poverty without addressing housing. That’s why our new plan includes the addition of a renewed and deeper focus on housing justice. Core to our focus, and embedded throughout, is an action plan to increase our focus on improving diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism. Addressing each of these issues head-on is essential to our strategies to dismantle the root causes of poverty.

Make no mistake. We know this is a big effort, and it will take all of us to meet the challenge.

As we begin our next century, we’ll do what United Way does best: bring people together to build solutions, inspire people to help one another, and advocate for the changes we need. Together, we can build a Bay Area where everyone has the opportunities and resources needed to thrive.

— Kevin


See highlights from our recent centennial event, kicking off a year of gatherings which will last through 2022 until our founding date this December. We hope you’ll stay connected and join the continued celebrations!