United Way, Miami’s loyal partner needs you | Opinion

Miami Herald files

Our city was built by entrepreneurial visionaries that saw potential in a small town along Biscayne Bay — pioneers who established a 300-person city that would become a vibrant international city.

Quickly, our founders realized that a growing city faces growing challenges, and by 1924, a small group of business and civic leaders formed the Miami Community Chest, the precursor to United Way of Miami-Dade.

They organized one coordinated fundraising campaign to support social services and improve the well-being of the entire community. “We Care” was the simple two-word motto for the 1924 United Way campaign that raised more than $136,000 to support 12 local programs.

Two years later, their mettle was tested when the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 ravished the city. That’s when campaign chair R.B. Burdine mobilized 25,000 workers to help their neighbors and set up a tent with the YWCA on Southeast First Street and First Avenue to offer immediate supplies and assistance to all who needed help.

His legacy of offering a helping hand in the wake of storms would be engraved in United Way’s 95-year history.

Interwoven in the fabric of Miami and United Way are the common threads of leadership, responsiveness, creativity and partnership. As the city transformed from a small, pioneer town into our diverse and dynamic Miami-Dade County, United Way’s work also evolved to meet emerging needs.

Today, the annual campaign continues to be the driving force that allows United Way to respond to daily community needs and be ready to activate when disasters strike, leaving a lasting impact in our hometown and around the world.

During disasters, United Way can activate because the annual campaign sustains us, so that every dollar raised can be invested to help victims through Operation Helping Hands — a relief fund in partnership with the Miami Herald/el Nuevo Herald.

Countless times, over more than nine decades, we’ve rallied volunteers and donations to help our fellow Miamians recover and rebuild, and we’ve extended a helping hand to our neighbors, particularly in the Caribbean, including Haiti, Puerto Rico, Dominica and most recently, the Bahamas.

From a 3-day sprint, to a year-round marathon, the campaign has grown to support more than 100 programs and 60 local agencies, and empowers United Way to offer direct services to help bridge socioeconomic,Loyal health and education gaps through world class programs like the United Way Center for Excellence in Early Education, the United Way Center for Financial Stability, and Mission United, among many others.

The magic is in the people. More than 250 workplaces engage nearly 60,000 employees to work together on common community goals, while learning about existing needs and being part of the solution.

Yet, they alone can’t carry the full load. With nearly 60 percent of our households either living in, or on the edge of, poverty, we all have a stake in building a city where families thrive, children have access to quality education and older adults feel included and validated — a place we can all be proud to call home.

As business leaders and as residents of this burgeoning city, we must all participate in taking care of those who need us most. Along with my fellow campaign co-chairs, Frank Gonzalez and Neisen Kasdin, we invite you to be curious, ask questions, get involved and become part of our United Way family.

Today, we once again kick-off the annual campaign that throughout time has empowered us to lift our community, strengthen families and transform people’s lives.

Our motto is as simple now as it was in 1924: “We fight for a stronger Miami. Join us now.”