The Norwalk Area United Fund began more than 130 years ago as the Ladies Union Aid Society to "help the poor to help themselves" and "to help those who cannot help themselves."
The organization thrives today with a much broader mission.
Now the United Fund helps thousands of people each year through 32 organizations that provide medical, social, youth and community outreach programs. All money raised in Huron County is spent on local programs.
Linda Bersche, executive director, said while the focus and names have changed over the years, the United Fund has always been an organization dedicated to helping others.
"It has to start at home," Bersche said. "The whole community won't improve unless we take care of our community."
In some ways, she said, the focus of the Norwalk Area United Way is the same as that of the Ladies Union Aid Society.
"I think if you don't make where you live the best it can be, you can't move forward," Bersche said. But she acknowledged people today face many concerns not even considered in 1877.
"We have to look at a broader view," she said. "We need to give our kids a good, solid community base for them to look at when they move on in their lives."
While many people might have lived their entire lives in the area 130 years ago, she explained, many local people end up building lives outside of the area today. But that doesn't change the importance of organizations such as the United fund, she said,
"Helping others is a very selfless thing," Bersche said. "It is good to know that we're not alone in this world and we need to help others not just to give back, but to appreciate what people in this world have to offer."
Teaching people to carry the willingness to contribute wherever they live is one of the goals of United Fund.
"As a people, we depend on others," Bersche said. "We depend on our families when we're young. We depend on our schools and our community to nurture us to what we will be. We need to give back to each other. You find yourself at times in your life no matter who are in need."
That translates to great opportunities in Bersche's eyes.
"Its about the opportunity to meet wonderful people who are doing wonderful things," she said of her job. "It doesn't get any better than that."
Bersche, who had been executive director since 1990, first started working for United Fund 30 years ago. What started out as a job has become a mission.
"It enriches my life so much," she said. "It leaps beyond the frustrations of working toward the goal and answering all of the calls."
Bersche said the initial effort of Norwalk women back in 1877 should be honored.
"They started the whole philanthropy movement in the area," she said. The Ladies Union Aid Society had several committees employment, clothing, soliciting, visiting, investigating and supply.
They also rented a house on Seminary Street for a shelter for homeless people. A matron was hired to run the house.
As a major fundraiser, the women collected $22.41 on Thanksgiving Day, 1878
The organization went through several transformations from 1887 to the present. In 1884 the name was changed to the Union Relief Society of Norwalk. It became the Smile Club in 1907 and focused efforts on helping people in the holiday season with food and clothing.
In 1924, the organization was renamed as the Norwalk Community Chest. That change was explained in a Nov. 4, 1924 article in the Norwalk Reflector-Herald.
C.C. Patterson, chairman of the welfare committee of the Kiwanis Club, suggested combining the "local war chest" of funds collected to help families through World War I be combined with the community service funds available through the Union Relief Society.
"Charitably inclined citizens are confused by the multiplied demand upon their generosity," he wrote, suggesting a new name for a combined purpose.
"The highest form of democracy is the purely voluntary desire of the more fortunate of us adequately to care for the less fortunate," he wrote.
The charity had one final transformation in 1961 as it became the Norwalk Area United Fund.
56 families helped
Expenses $27.25 rent for house for homeless
$30.00 pay for matron for house
$2.50 printing costs
$52.76 wood, clothing, shoes (many other items were donated)
2007 (all donations will not be totaled until March, 2008)
Thousands of people across Huron County helped
Expenses $43,000 American Red Cross
$5,000 Boy Scouts of America
$7,500 CAC Homeless Shelter
$5,000 Cancer services
$25,000 Catholic Charities
$12,000 Clothing Bank
$5,000 Girl Scouts of Erie Shores
$1,000 God's Little Critters
$3,000 Kidney Foundation
$1,000 Norwalk Area Food Bank
$12,000 Norwalk Childcare Center
$2,000 Reach Our Youth
$ 45,500 Salvation Army
$18,000 Senior Enrichment Services
$43,560 Socially Medically Handicapped
$5,000 Stein Hospice
$1,000 USO World Headquarters
$2,000 Wakeman Caring Community
$1,000 Boy scout fund
$1,000 Girl scout fund
$12,448 Information and communications
$5,122 Community and emergency grant fund