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History of United Way

100+ Years of Improving Lives

United Way of Erie County was first conceptualized in 1911, when the first recorded discussion concerning the need to unite separate agencies for fundraising and mutual cooperation was held. Then in 1914, it was established under the name of Erie Social Service Federation when 11 of the 22 agencies in Erie County united. This federation of nonprofits would be known by a variety of names throughout the following years, including; Community Chest, United Fund and United Community Services. In 1974, it was established as United Way of Erie County.

For 100 years, United Way of Erie County has witnessed and experienced many changes, but the one thing that remains constant is its mission of improving people’s lives. The words may be different, but the message is still the same:

“On behalf of the residents of Erie County, United Way brings the community together to provide resources that help people in need or at risk solve their problems.”


Eleven out of the 22 local social service agencies unite to form the Erie Social Service Federation.


Twenty-five agencies come together to become the Community Chest and raise $895,091 under the leadership of the first recorded Campaign Chairman, Charles R. English.


Erie joins the national AFL-CIO/UW partnership with the hiring of the first Community Service Liaison, Alton Ross.


The United Fund was established by 33 members of the Community Chest.


The United Fund merged with Community Services Planning Council and became United Community Services of Erie County.


The organization officially becomes United Way of Erie County.


Alexis de Tocqueville Society of Erie County formed and the first Alex de Tocqueville Society Award presented to Edward C. Doll.


United Way of Erie County Endowment Fund established with anonymous $1 million donation.


Young Leaders Club formed to promote philanthropy, volunteerism and involvement among emerging leaders in Erie County.


United Way moves to a new building located at 420 West 6th Street. Formerly the home of AAA, this new location provides additional meeting space and parking that enhances United Way’s ability to work as a convener.


Erie Together, Erie County's anti-poverty movement, is co-started by United Way of Erie County, Greater Erie Community Action Committee, and Mercyhurst University.


United Way begins operation of Erie FREE Taxes, the local Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, providing free tax preparation for hard-working low to moderate wage earners.


United Way announces a bold, long-term vision to help reduce the number of families struggling to meet their basic needs by one-third by 2025. 


United Way launches the Imagination Library, a  game-changing program designed to increase literacy rates and prepare more children to enter kindgarten. All children in Erie County under the age of five are eligible to sign up and get a free book mailed to their homes each month.

United Way introduces FamilyWize® Prescription Drug Discount Card to Erie County residents.


United Way joins with Erie's Public Schools to bring the Community School model to several schools in the City of Erie.


United Way launches 2-1-1 information and referral services across Erie County, connecting people in need to the right nonprofits with programs to assist them.


United Way expands the Community School model countywide to include Girard and Iroquois School Districts.

United Way becomes a Campaign for Grade-Level Reading community, launching the local initiative known as Raising Readers.