United Family Services gears for growth

Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — While it was founded 99 years ago, United Family Services actively began raising money only 11 years ago.

Now, as it prepares for its 100th anniversary in 2009, the agency is looking for ways to diversify its funding base and generate more private support to help meet rising demand for services.

The agency, which has seen its annual budget grow to $6 million in the fiscal year that ends June 30 from $4.8 million four years ago, served over 59,000 clients in the most recent fiscal year.

Operating six offices in Cabarrus, Mecklenburg and Union counties and in the Mooresville-Lake Norman area, the agency provides services in the areas of domestic violence; counseling and education; crisis intervention and advocacy; and economic independence.

United Family Services operates with 100 employees and 350 active volunteers, and received $1.3 million in private contributions in the most recent fiscal year, plus $1.5 million from United Way of Central Carolinas.

Gene Burton, vice president for development and communications, says a key goal is to generate a bigger share of private support from individuals by getting them more involved in the agency’s work.

A big event for United Family Services is “Art with Heart,” the annual art auction the agency sponsored for the eighth year on Feb. 2.

Chaired by community volunteers Liza Smith and Laura Monk, and with former District Court Judge Claudia W. Belk serving as honorary chair, this year’s event drew over 700 guests, up from 450 last year.

The event netted between $100,000 and $110,000, according to estimates.

Last year’s event netted $100,000, over three times the total two years earlier, and featured over 300 pieces donated by roughly 150 artists.

Helping to manage this year’s auction, to be held at CenterStage@NoDa, will be Susan King, who is manager of the local Englishman’s antique-furniture store and chaired the agency’s first art auction.

In addition to activities celebrating its anniversary, Burton says, the agency is planning a capital campaign to raise money to support an increase in the number of beds it provides for women and children needing shelter from domestic violence.

Working with Charlotte consulting firm Capstone Advancement Partners, the agency soon will test the feasibility of a campaign and aims to present its plans this spring to the Capital Campaign Planning Board, a group that reviews and schedules capital campaigns.

A study commissioned by Mecklenburg County last spring found that, with 29 beds, the agency’s Shelter for Battered Women could not handle the need for shelter: In 2006, for example, the shelter was turning away 70 women and children a month, on average, up from 18 a month three years earlier.

The agency is considering replacing its current shelter with a larger one housing 80 beds, and expanding shelter services to include transitional housing in addition to emergency beds.

While women and their children now can stay in the shelter for 30 days, Burton says, they need more to help deal with the trauma they have faced and to figure out how to live free of violence.

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