United Way of Elkhart County to unite with LaGrange group

A sign shows the United Way of Elkhart County’s headquarters at 601 C.R. 17 in Elkhart. The organization is set to merge with the United Fund in LaGrange County to create a new entity.

ELKHART — The local United Way will enfold its sister group in LaGrange County and expand into an organization with a more regional scope.

An announcement Monday revealed the United Way of Elkhart County will merge with the United Fund of LaGrange County. The plans will be finalized during an event in Shipshewana Friday following a year of exploration and organization.

The merged group will be renamed United Way of Elkhart and LaGrange Counties with a new board that incorporates board members from the local United Way and the United Fund.

The move is expected to help the organization operate on a more regional level that better suits the desires of partners and donors with stakes in more than one county.

“The challenges facing our communities do not recognize city boundaries or county lines. The larger United Way will be able to partner with local and regional organizations and attract new funding from individual and corporate donors who are more interested in wider geographic programs that serve a greater number of people, influence social change and solve more problems,” Bill Rieth, CEO of United Way of Elkhart County, stated in the release.

Rieth explained companies have talked about wanting to do more in LaGrange County working through the local United Way. Under the prior structure, with the United Way and United Fund each serving their particular counties, those businesses had to connect with the United Fund. But the United Fund is a smaller group — The United Way raises about $2 million each year, compared to approximately $60,000 raised by the United Fund, Rieth said. — headed by Mimi Wismer, a director who works part-time. The workload and limitations could affect fundraising progress.

“Because they have a part-timer person over there, they found it challenging to be able to follow up on that,” Rieth said. “It seems to make more sense to impact more people and raise more money over time if we combine forces.”

Rieth described Wismer’s role as difficult in a 20-hour-a-week job. After the merger, Wismer will join the new United Way and continue leading the office in LaGrange with additional support and resources from the office in Elkhart. She and volunteers will have a better opportunity to focus on researching needs of communities in LaGrange County communities and identify ways to support them.

“I know she’ll be able to do more things to impact more lives,” Rieth said. “Now she can just focus on community impact.”

The Elkhart office will take over most of the financial duties, which should include streamlining the process for donors in Elkhart County to invest more in LaGrange County as well.

Rieth pointed out that while the new United Way will cover two counties, donors can still specify where they want their money directed, such as whether it should stay in their community or go to an organization they want to support.

Overall, the new United Way board will decide the distribution of funds. Three of the 10 United Fund board members will join members from the Elkhart County United Way board to form the new board. The meetings will be held on a rotation in Elkhart and LaGrange so that travel isn’t one-sided for members, Rieth said.

He hopes the United Way of Elkhart County will end the year with a fundraising amount close to 2018’s total. He said fundraising was good but tougher this year as some local companies have concerns about the possible economic and political climates 2020 could bring.

Rieth also anticipated going through a learning curve after the merger as the new organization works out kinks from the move.

“Like anything that’s new, sometimes there are things we don’t know,” Rieth said.

The merger will be finalized Friday during an event scheduled to be held at Blue Gate Restaurant in Shipshewana.

Aimee Ambrose can be reached at aimee.ambrose@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 316. Follow her on Twitter at @aambrose_TGN.

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