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United Way of Pinal County is celebrating 40 years of helping residents help others in their communities. During that time, countless organizations and individuals have received assistance, and much of it has been needed severely. The organization has sought to target funding to places it would do the most good, including by helping recipients to become productive, giving members of society themselves.

Many organizations run their own fundraising campaigns, and that is good. However, United Way fills an important role and seeks not to clash with others.

The organization started in Casa Grande in 1981 with Jim Lauchner, the local Arizona Public Service Co. manager, as president. Joanna Michelich of Central Arizona College was vice president, Girl Scouts volunteer Sally Davis was secretary and banker Jim Marsh was treasurer. The Rev. Alfred Dawe, an Episcopal priest, chaired the first campaign. Wilbert “Wil” Soltau headed an “inventory of needs” committee. He later became a volunteer executive director after retiring from the Arizona Department of Economic Security.

One incentive to start the local United Way was to utilize corporate funds when some companies gave only to United Ways. The group soon added board members from Apache Junction, the Copper Corridor as well as around the Casa Grande Valley and reached out to become a true countywide effort. The formation of United Way of Pinal marked a milestone in the growth of Casa Grande and Pinal, long before we had the growth we have today.

One proud accomplishment has been operation of the VITA tax assistance program, which helps households file for bigger returns, amounting to $10 million, according to United Way. A partnership with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library sends books to 1,200 kids monthly to encourage literacy.

United Way assists the homeless and provides funding for such basics as food, rent and utility assistance and car repairs.

The many volunteers who have devoted time to United Way over the years, and the countless people who have donated, much of it through payroll deduction, should be proud — and continue to support United Way.

— Donovan Kramer Jr.

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