Today’s Meriden United Way Campaign to fund local social service agencies began in 1930 with a mission to centralize community charitable giving under one umbrella so that raising and distributing funds to worthy local charitable organizations could be done with more efficiency.
A momentous occasion took place 41 years later in the fall of 1971 when the United Way campaigns in Meriden and Wallingford merged to become the United Way of Meriden and Wallingford. Attorney Gary Olson of the well-known law firm Luby/Olson PC became the first board chairman of the newly constituted joint organization.
According to the press clippings of the time, the Meriden/Wallingford merger was not without its detractors and critics, not unlike the talk we hear today when change to the status quo is considered.
But nonetheless, the merger prevailed with none of those dire predictions coming true. For the past 47 years, the Meriden /Wallingford communities have benefited from working together to raise funds for important services and programs that help local children, families, and seniors.
Twelve years ago, Jim Ieronimo was named executive director of the Meriden/Wallingford United Way. Jim was well known in the community as a long-time educator in the Meriden public schools and a business executive. He quickly put his experience and local connections to work and built a capable, dedicated board of directors. He also introduced a system to measure community needs and the impact of services using results-based accountability. This allowed agencies to set goals and objectives unique to their abilities and the people they served.
Jim also ushered in a program to expand the Meriden Volunteer Tax Assistance (VITA) program that today serves both communities by providing free income tax preparation for seniors which, in 2017, returned over $1.7 million to taxpayers at no cost to them thanks to the trained VITA volunteers.
Another first that Jim helped to establish was the ALICE (Asset-Limited, Income Constrained and Employed) program to provide critical assistance to families who earn too much to be eligible to receive free services but not enough to pay for them entirely. These people often fall through the cracks of the safety net but, thanks to ALICE, funding is made available so that they can recover and prosper.
Over the past twelve years, Jim Ieronimo has distinguished himself with stellar service to the Meriden/Wallingford United Way. But all good things must come to an end and Jim has announced his retirement. A new executive director, Maria F. Campos Harlow, has been hired by the board of directors and takes over the reins this month.
Harlow, a native of Colombia, South America, had previously served as executive director of the Spanish Community of Wallingford (SCOW) where she took control of an emerging agency and transformed it into a model of service to the community. Maria is also tri-lingual (fluent in English, Spanish and French), and has steeped herself in the richness of different cultures.
Maria told me she welcomes her new opportunity to lead the Meriden/Wallingford United Way along with the board of directors and looks forward to her new challenges. She stated: “As I begin my new journey, I have the privilege to rally support for local nonprofit organizations that skillfully address the needs and challenges faced by our community. I encourage the community to join me to make my first campaign successful. We all win when our community is healthy, productive, and engaged.”
I will be working alongside Maria in the upcoming annual Meriden/Wallingford campaign starting this fall. As volunteer campaign chairman, I will also be working closely with our dedicated board of directors to ensure that we reach the funding goal necessary to support those community services that are so crucial to our children, families and seniors.
George McGoldrick is the new president of the board of directors and is equally privileged and excited to lend a helping hand to this year’s campaign. He said: “I am delighted about Maria taking the helm at this important time for the Meriden/Wallingford United Way in our combined community effort. We are facing some difficult challenges, but I am confident that we have generous communities and strong leadership to meet and exceed our goals.”
Michael S. Rohde is a former mayor and city councilor of Meriden.