United efforts to solve Chattanoogans’ biggest problems remain at the heart of community building

Chattanoogans are no strangers to disasters. War, pandemics, floods, pollution and poverty mark our history. Yet this suffering has long been the basis of rare and beautiful episodes of true community.

For more than a century, United Way of Greater Chattanooga and its predecessors have been at the center of community development, whether bringing together leaders to understand and solve local issues or raising funds throughout the community to support those who respond. to the greatest needs. .

Over the years, the organization’s fundraising methods have followed national trends. At times, local leaders were ahead of the pack, joining with other cities to find innovative solutions to the most pressing dilemmas of the day. At other times, they followed along while learning from the mistakes of others.

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United Way of Greater Chattanooga

Either way, United Way continues to evolve and build partnerships across the community in hopes of having a real impact on the intractable issues facing cities like Chattanooga.

Even as the organization celebrates its longevity, there is still a long way to go with much work to do and many questions to ask. Biggest, according to United Way leaders: How can Chattanooga continue to be one of the worst places for a child to grow up in poverty and one of the most generous?


This year, United Way of Greater Chattanooga celebrates 100 years. Here we trace its history through the decades.

1887 – A Denver woman coordinates the first fundraising campaign to establish a community trust in Colorado to help organize local interfaith charitable efforts.

1914 – Adolph Ochs, the famous founder of the Chattanooga Times and the New York Times, starts the Neediest Cases Fund, now run by the Times Free Press and United Way, to raise money between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day each year. Recipients request funds ranging from $260 to $500 to meet needs such as rent, utilities, and auto repairs.

After World War I began that same year, the community chest model, which relied on door-to-door canvassing, began to spread rapidly throughout the county as a mode of wartime fundraising.

Staff File Photo / Clippings from local newspapers about the 1918 Spanish Flu are kept at the Chattanooga Public Library.

1922 – In the wake of an outbreak of cholera, yellow fever, and Spanish flu, a group of leaders, including Dr. Tom S. McCallie, established the Chattanooga Community Chest, the precursor to United Way of Greater Chattanooga to “strengthen and to make effective the spirit of humanity”. helpfulness in Chattanooga; to offer its citizens the opportunity to contribute to the work of human welfare and to coordinate the work of voluntary and charitable institutions. At the time, fewer than 250 community vaults existed in the United States

[1945-[1945- By the end of World War II, nearly 800 community chests had been created throughout the county. During World War II, health research charities like the American Cancer Society gained government support and began running separate and competing local fundraising campaigns, leading to efforts to consolidate appeals for funding in the workplace.

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Chattanooga News-Free Press photo by John Goforth / THIS 1952 PHOTO was a promotion for a Community Chest charity campaign at Cities Service gas stations around Chattanooga. Pictured at the 1515 Broad Street location are, left to right, TM Lasater, station operator; WE Brock Jr., then president of the Community Chest; Bill Pettway, then president of Pettway Oil Company; Ben Johnston, operator; and WS Keese Jr., then chairman of the Community Chest campaign.

1955 – The Chattanooga Community Chest and the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society establish the Dread Disease Fund to combat diseases affecting area citizens, which several years later became the Venture Fund, which provided grants to meet the needs of community identified through local studies.

1956 – Donations from the workplace to United Funds and Community Chests exceed corporate donations nationwide.

1967 – Mrs. Ruth Street, Mrs. Alice Lupton and Mrs. Ruth S. Holmberg are the first women to join the council.

1968 – United Way of Greater Chattanooga becomes one of the few organizations nationwide to receive and staff.

1980 – The United Fund takes on a new name: United Way of Greater Chattanooga. United Way organizations across the country are soliciting workplace donations that can be paid through automatic payroll deductions. The money is then used to support local non-profit organizations.

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Photo courtesy of United Way/As a member of the United Way Board of Directors and a business leader and citizen, Scott “Scotty” Probasco enthusiastically rallied his support. His contagious spirit has helped change the lives of countless families who would never know him.

1982 – Scotty Probasco becomes chairman of the first “Loaned Executive Program” and leads executives released from their employers for a nine-week period to help United Way volunteers and professionals lead the national campaign and promote the agency throughout the community .

1988 – May Bell Hurley, the first woman to chair Centraide’s board of directors, also becomes the first woman to chair the annual campaign, raising record amounts.

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Photo courtesy of United Way/May Bell Hurley became the first woman to chair the United Way Board and Annual Campaign, pictured here with other board members including Scott ‘Scotty’ Probasco. They raised record levels and established community initiatives including Success by 6 (later called Project Ready for School), the 211 Community Helpline, and the Building Stable Lives program.

1990 – United Way of Greater Chattanooga held its first Day of Caring and each year continues to bring the community together to celebrate the spirit of volunteerism.

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Staff File Photo / United Way volunteers paint a house on United Way Day of Caring in 2014. United Way of Greater Chattanooga held its first Day of Caring in 1990, and each year it continues to bring together the community to celebrate the spirit of volunteerism.

1997 – The first 211 service is created by United Way of Atlanta to help people find local help for needs such as housing, tax preparation, after-school programs and rental assistance.

2000 – United Way America announces a strategy for local affiliates to not only raise funds, but also to help set community priorities. Funding becomes tied to results and is no longer a guarantee for non-profit organizations that receive United Way funds. Under this new model, local United Ways are beginning to select local issues to raise funds for and award grants to nonprofits that are committed to solving them.

2018 – United Way of Greater Chattanooga announces plans to host “The Hub for Social Innovation”, operated by Venture Forward, formerly known as the Center for Nonprofits.

2022 – United Way of Greater Chattanooga is transitioning to a competitive funding model. Instead of funding the same 40 local partner nonprofits, United Way is beginning to license any 501(c)(3) nonprofit in Hamilton, Marion, or Sequatchie counties in southeast Tennessee and Dade, Walker and Catoosa counties in northern Georgia to apply for grants.

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