Latest News:

Local Business Team Up to Support United Way

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Series of Five Focus Groups Seek to Capture the Voices of Utica Residents Utica Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI)

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United Way and Community Partners Spread Warmth with Winter Coat, Hat and Glove Distribution for Children in need

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New United Way Report on the Trends Impacting Working Families

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United Way and Community Partners Launch Ready for Kindergarten Education Initiative

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United Way Activity Trails Ribbon Cutting with Utica Mayor Robert M. Palmieri

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2016 Campaign Kick-Off: Great Things Happen When We LIVE UNITED

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Assemblyman Brindisi, Oneida County Executive Picente and Partners Announce Appointment of Kevin Alexander as Coordinator of Anti-Poverty Initiative

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Utica Comets Hockey Night Created an Unforgettable Experience

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United Way CEO Accepted into Worldwide Executive Leadership Program

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Community Leaders Gather for Poverty Simulation

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Mayor Robert Palmieri and Susan Palmieri Announce United Way as Co-Recipient of 2016 Mayor's Benefit Gala

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Annual Day of Thanks

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2-1-1 Mid-York Celebrates Anniversary with Launch of Searchable Website

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New Members Welcomed to United Way Board of Directors

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Governor Andrew M. Cuomo Announces $25M Anti-Poverty Program

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Local Business Team Up to Support United Way

June 14, 2017 – Utica NY – During the month of May, twenty local businesses and organizations took part in a Pin Up Challenge benefiting United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica Area. This competition to bring in the most fundraising dollars resulted in over $2,800 raised, demonstrating the tremendous sprit and generosity of our local business community.

The winner of the Pin Up Challenge was CrossFit Utica, raising over $600. “At CrossFit Utica we are always looking at ways to help and contribute to a better Utica, so teaming up with United Way was a no brainer,” said Anthony Mucurio, owner of CrossFit Utica. “CrossFit at its core is all about building relationships and a sense of community. We wanted to do our part to help so United Way can offer programs that will directly impact the Utica area in a positive way.”

United Way thanks CrossFitUtica and the following local businesses for their participation; Barks on the Boulevard, Bella's Event Planning, DDS MOTOR SPORTS, Endless Summer Tanning & Beauty Salon, The Fountainhead Group, Inc., Gentlemen's Corner Barber Shop, McQuade & Bannigan, Inc., CrossFit MohawkValley, Pizza Boys, Retro Fitness of Yorkville, Riverside Diner, Seneca Wine and Liquor, The Indigo Tree, Valley Wine and Liquor, Woodland Farm Brewery, The Treehouse Reading and Arts Center, Sweet Escape Chocolate Lounge, and So Sweet Candy Cafe.

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Series of Five Focus Groups Seek to Capture the Voices of Utica Residents Utica Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI)

January 18, 2017 – Utica, NY – As Mayor Palmieri, United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica Area and Community Leaders move forward with the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI) handed down one year ago by Governor Cuomo, they continue to seek stakeholder input.

"While Utica's economy and finances have significantly improved over the past several years, poverty is still a hurdle facing many residents. My Administration has consistently demonstrated its commitment in improving the quality of life for all Utican's and the ESPRI focus groups will help us solicit input and gather information from the community with the mission of reducing poverty,” said Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri. “I encourage everyone to attend these focus groups to share your thoughts, concerns and ideas as we strive for all our residents to have the opportunity for financial independence."

The first in a series of five focus groups was held Wednesday, January 18, engaging and capturing the voices of residents living in Utica. Anyone who resides in Utica is encouraged to participate. Remaining focus group dates, times and locations are as follows:

  • January 24 – 5:00 p.m. – The Neighborhood Center – 624 Elizabeth St., Utica
  • January 27 – 5:00 p.m. – Francis De Sales Center - 309 Genesee St., Utica
  • January 30 – 6:00 p.m. – Boilermaker Finishline - 805 Court St., Utica
  • February 2 – 5:00 p.m. – Parkway Center - 220 Memorial Parkway, Utica

"The ESPRI Utica project is a process to engage the entire community to find new, innovative ways to combat poverty. I believe it is important to get participation in the focus groups from as many people as possible, since everyone's experience is different," said Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi. "The comments and data from these focus groups will help drive further discussion through working groups led by facilitators. Ultimately this will develop the group's plan of action, which will continue to be reviewed on an annual basis."

United Way is leading these focus groups to learn about the barriers that may be holding Utica residents back from moving out of poverty and/or becoming financially independent. “It is imperative that we listen to the people working their way out of poverty,” said United Way Executive Director Brenda Episcopo. “These community members will help us identify and confirm areas where our community is strong, as well as the gaps in resources that would allow people to move out of poverty and become financially independent.”

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United Way and Community Partners Spread Warmth with Winter Coat, Hat and Glove Distribution for Children in need

December 13, 2016 – Utica, NY – United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica Area partnered with “Herb” Philipson’s and MVP Health Care to “Spread the Warmth” in our communities by distributing nearly 400 brand-new winter coats and nearly 100 brand-new hats and gloves to area children in need.

“Many parents in the communities we serve worry about keeping their children warm during the cold winter months. MVP Health Care wants to help alleviate that concern by providing winter coats to children who need them most,” said MVP Vice President of Community Engagement Ellen Sax.

The donated items were distributed to representatives from local schools and organizations on Tuesday, December 13, 2016. United Way staff and volunteers were on hand to assist in packing and loading donations.

Schools and organizations receiving items include: Herkimer Elementary, Oriskany Central School, Poland Central School, Waterville Central School, Frankfort-Schuyler Central School, The Neighborhood Center, Salvation Army of Herkimer, and Salvation Army of Utica.

“It is amazing to have community partners come together to support families in our local community,” said Executive Director Brenda Episcopo. “United Way is honored to be the conduit of this and many other great efforts to better our community as a whole throughout the year.”

Winter items will be distributed directly to community children in need through the school districts and organizations listed above, and will not be available through United Way.

Families in need of help or assistance other than winter coats and booth are encouraged to call the 2-1-1 Help Hotline, 24/7, free, confidential, in every language, by simply dialing 2-1-1 or 1-844-342-5211.

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New United Way Report on the Trends Impacting Working Families

November 28, 2016 – Utica, NY – According to a new report released by New York State United Ways, 2.1 million ALICE – an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed – households in NYS have incomes above the poverty level but below the ALICE threshold budget for survival. With an additional 1.1 million households below the poverty line, 44 percent of New York households can no longer afford basic necessities including housing, child care, food, transportation, and health care.

This Report is about far more than poverty; it reveals profound changes in the structure of New York’s communities and jobs. It documents the increase in the basic cost of living, the decrease in the availability of jobs that can support household necessities, and the shortage of housing that workers in the majority of the state’s jobs can afford.

The United Way of New York State ALICE Report:

● Details the average minimum costs for households in New York to simply survive – the ALICE threshold – for each county in NYS;

● Examines how much income is needed to enable New York households to afford the Household Survival Budget;

● Presents the Economic Viability Dashboard – a measure of the conditions New York ALICE households actually face;

● Focuses on how households survive without sufficient income and assets to meet the ALICE threshold.

The findings are stark. The impact of the Great Recession was even greater than first realized, and for many New Yorkers, conditions have not improved in the four years since the technical end of the Recession in 2010. In 2007, 41 percent of New York households had income below the ALICE Threshold; that share increased to 43 percent in 2010 and to 44 percent in 2014. In contrast, the official U.S. poverty rate in New York reports that in 2014, only 15 percent, or 1,105,653 households, were struggling. But the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) was developed in 1965; its methodology has remained largely unchanged despite changes in the cost of living over time; and it is not adjusted to reflect cost of living differences across the country.

The ALICE report shows how many households in the state are struggling, and they provide the new language needed to discuss this segment of our community and the economic challenges that so many residents face. ALICE households are working households; they hold jobs, pay taxes, and provide services that are vital to the New York economy, in a variety of positions such as retail salespeople, office clerks, food preparers, customer service representatives, and home health aides.

When ALICE households cannot make ends meet, they are forced to make difficult choices such as forgoing health care, accredited child care, healthy food, or car insurance. These “savings” threaten their health, safety, and future – and they reduce productivity and raise insurance premiums and taxes for everyone. The costs are high for both ALICE families and the wider community. Help us give assistance to the "ALICE" of the Valley and Greater Utica Area: give us a call at 315-733-4691, or visit our website at

Link to the NYS Alice report:

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United Way and Community Partners Launch Ready for Kindergarten Education Initiative

November 15, 2016 – Mohawk, NY – United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica Area announced its partnership with Central Valley School District, Dolgeville Central School District, Remsen Central School District, in creating the Ready for Kindergarten (R4K) Education Initiative. The ceremony, held on Tuesday, November 15 at Harry M. Fisher Elementary School in Mohawk commemorated this milestone and officially launched R4K.

“Addressing the many barriers to kindergarten success is critical for our many children who live in poverty without access to services or resources. This is something that is difficult, if not impossible, for schools to accomplish alone,” said Christine Reynolds, Dolgeville School District Superintendent. “That’s why partnering with United Way is so exciting for us. Working together we hope to make a difference in the lives of our children and families so that all children will have the opportunity to be ready for Kindergarten and ready to learn.”

The combined mission of the R4K Education Initiative connects families, schools, and community resources to prepare children to reach their full potential. By focusing on the root cause of our region’s problems we can make school readiness a reality for every child and family, and have the greatest chance of making measurable improvements in our communities.

“Research is clear. Students who begin school underprepared, struggle throughout their lives to close that learning gap. To overcome this challenge, we must reach students as early as possible — before they enter kindergarten. We know we can move the dial when families, local agencies and organizations, and child development and education professionals collaborate,” said Richard Hughes, Central Valley School District Superintendent. Together, we can empower parents to be a positive force in their children's education. That is why we are so excited by R4K. It combines the passion and resources of United Way, our schools, and our families to prepare our children for a life of learning.”

After the launch ceremony, over 130 pre-school students enjoyed a special program in celebration of this momentous effort. Sheriff Chris Farber of Herkimer County Sheriff’s Office and Major Francis Coots of New York State Police read to the children — with a special visit from McGruff the Crime Dog. Children participated in creative movement with Mother Goose, a sing-along with Beth Meeusen, United Way Family School Coordinator, and William Crankshaw, Remsen School District Superintendent, and made crafts provided by Dolgeville School District. Plus, each child received a goody bag with special treats!

“Our mission is ambitious. Uniting families, schools, and community resources to prepare children to reach their full potential by focusing on school readiness,” said Brenda Episcopo, United Way Executive Director. “We are grateful to be launching this pilot project by partnering with Central Valley, Dolgeville and Remsen School Districts, as well as Literacy Coalition of Herkimer and Oneida Counties, Oneida County Youth Council, Stop ACES, and the new R4K Coalition to ensure children and families in our communities have the tools they need to thrive!”!

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United Way Activity Trails Ribbon Cutting with Utica Mayor Robert M. Palmieri

October 15, 2016 – Utica, NY – A family event and ribbon cutting to officially celebrate activity trails created during United Way’s Day of Action took place on Saturday, October 15, 2016 at Quinn Park in Utica, NY.

Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri was in attendance along with Brenda Episcopo, Executive Director of United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica Area, in addition to other community partners, including members of Utica’s Police Department and Fire Department.

The fifth annual United Way Day of Action was held on Wednesday, September 28, 2016. United Way, City of Utica and Fit and Fun Playscapes, as well as volunteers from Assist-2-Sell Real Estate, Utica National Insurance Group, Masonic Care Community, and The Hartford partnered to create fitness activity trails throughout four parks within the City of Utica. The trails were funded by proceeds from the 2016 Mayor’s Gala.

According to United Way’s Executive Director Brenda Episcopo, “United Way has always stood for healthy children. Bringing together donors and volunteers to build these trails showcases what United Way does best; bring people together to make an impact. Children will get active on these trails for years to come.”

Community children and members of their families enjoyed fun, fitness activities with members of Utica’s Police Department and Fire Department, as well as an appearance by the newest member of Utica Police Department’s K-9 team, Varick!

The activity trails are part of United Way’s Live Well initiative, with efforts focused on helping kids stay healthy. Cinderella Park, Parkway Recreation Center, Quinn Park, and Pixley Playground all have new trails that will provide neighborhood children, youth and families activities which support physical fitness and socialization skills, all while having fun!

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2016 Campaign Kick-Off: Great Things Happen When We LIVE UNITED

September 15, 2016 – Utica, NY – The community celebrated at Mohawk Valley Community College’s Alumni Center as United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica Area kicked off its 95th annual fundraising campaign.

The Campaign Kick-Off, sponsored by MVCC and Limelight Event Planning, marks the start of United Way’s annual fundraising effort and gives the organization an opportunity to thank local companies, donors, and volunteers for their generosity and commitment to our community. United Way’s guests enjoyed hors d’oeuvres, a cash bar, and music by Justin Smithson from Showtime and POORtIM.

“In the coming year, we will continue to fund programs that meet needs in our community. We will also step up to address challenges in our community such as poverty, child obesity, and kids not ready for school. We need you, to help us meet our 95th Campaign Goal of $2.1 million.” said Brenda Episcopo, United Way CEO.

1 in 4 people in the Valley and Greater Utica area request help from a United Way funded program throughout the year. Whether or not they receive that help depends on you. “United Way advances the common good by creating opportunities for a better life for all of us. Our focus is on the building blocks of a strong community: quality education, stable income, healthy people and a safety net for our community,” said Kristyn Bucciero, United Way Development and Marketing Director. United Way’s annual campaign is a vital part of the organization’s work because donations to United Way are used to support 49 local programs.

The Great Community Challenge (GCC), an incentive sponsored by Joe Tahan’s Furniture, Chanatry’s, Clifford Fuel, and Retro Fitness, will take place for the fourth year. To qualify donors may increase their gift by $1 a week, $52 annually. This year’s four prizes are $500 gift cards to Joe Tahan’s, Chanatry’s, or Clifford Fuel, or a one-year VIP membership to Retro Fitness. No donation is required to enter. Please contact the United Way for official rules.

All community members are encouraged to get involved in this year’s campaign. “It’s YOU that make great things happen by Living and Giving United. We need each of you to join us in this effort. Give all that you can. Recruit your family, friends, and coworkers to give. When you give, tell your friends! Tweet it, Facebook it, Instagram it, Snapchat it… Tell the world why you care!,” said Brenda Episcopo. To donate or volunteer, please call (315) 733–4691.

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Assemblyman Brindisi, Oneida County Executive Picente and Partners Announce Appointment of Kevin Alexander as Coordinator of the Anti-Poverty Initiative

Alexander, a life-long Utica resident, brings experience working with a number of area not-for-profits

 (UTICA) -- Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente, and Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri announced today that the Anti-Poverty Initiative has appointed life-long Utica resident Kevin Alexander as coordinator of the Initiative. Initiative partners also include the United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica, Inc., and The Community Foundation of Herkimer & Oneida Counties.

Alexander, a 2009 Proctor High School graduate, was a founding member in 2006 of the Underground Café; was recognized as an Observer Dispatch Teen All-Star, and was the first Hamilton College student to receive the Rust 2 Green Initiative Research Fellowship, among other awards. He has worked with Hope House, the Johnson Park Center, The Community Foundation of Herkimer & Oneida Counties, AmeriCorps VISTA, and Cornell Cooperative Extension. He also is a member of the Utica Public Library’s Board of Trustees, and works as an Assistant Leadership Trainer for the Levitt Leadership Institute alongside former U.S. Ambassador to Kenya and Guatemala Prudence Bushnell.

“Kevin has a great deal of experience working for human service agencies helping the poor here in the Mohawk Valley. From an early age, he has displayed excellent leadership skills, and a keen interest in improving the quality of life in our region. He clearly is ready to hit the ground running coordinating what I consider to be an extremely important initiative to bring as many area residents as possible out of poverty,” Brindisi said.

“I am pleased that Kevin has taken on the role of coordinator for the Anti-Poverty Initiative. He truly understands the wide range of issues that are a part of the problem, and he knows what it will take to bring together the key stakeholders that we need to help solve it. I look forward to working with him,” Picente said.

“Kevin interned for the Urban Planning Studio in City Hall and was a tremendous asset for us. I am pleased he was chosen to coordinate this important initiative and I am confident that, by working collaboratively, we can make great progress in combatting poverty in our communities,” Palmieri said.

“It is an honor for United Way to lead the charge on this initiative with so many great partners. We are thrilled to have selected Kevin Alexander as the coordinator. His passion for our community’s success and experience in lifting people out of poverty was critical in our selection process,” said Brenda Episcopo, Executive Director of the United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica Area, Inc.

“Poverty in our community is a complex issue with many causes and contributing factors. To move the needle on this issue, we will need many things—time, energy, resources, partnerships—and The Foundation is committed to investing in each of these. Together, with Kevin’s passion and dedication to our community, the Initiative is well-positioned to make significant progress,” said Alicia Dicks, President and CEO of The Foundation.

“I believe the ultimate accomplishment of this initiative should be to create, promote, and enhance public, private, and interagency partnership to generate a greater collective impact in our community. We are excited to work closely with our community as a whole to not only understand the causes and challenges of poverty, but to effectively gather input on how together, we can eliminate it,” Alexander said.

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United Way Comets Night created an Unforgettable Experience

(March 28, 2016) – Win or lose, ten Proctor High School students left the Utica Aud with nothing but smiles last Wednesday night after attending the Utica Comets vs. Syracuse Crunch hockey game.

Thanks to a partnership with Excellus BCBS, United Way of the Valley & Greater Utica Area was given an opportunity to sponsor the Comets this year. Part of the sponsorship included a United Way Comets night on the stage, directly behind the goal in the Utica Aud.

Rather than simply plan a night of fun on the stage for the United Way board of directors and staff, Marketing & Community Engagement Coordinator, Jordan M. Short, wanted to plan an experience for students from a United Way funded program, to display the impact made every day, while simultaneously, making an impact.

United Way board members were encouraged to purchase tickets on the stage for a cost above face value. The difference was used to purchase a ticket to the game for a student from the Underground Kings basketball team, led by the Underground Café, a program funded by United Way at Utica Safe Schools.

The students had round-trip transportation, snacks from the concession stand, a moment to shine on the ice while dropping the first puck of the game, and overall a VIP experience. “Our boys had an experience from another world tonight. For many of them, this was their first professional sporting event and their first night in the Aud; they live less than three miles away, but didn’t know what was inside,” said Jeremy Butler, Director of Programs at Utica Safe Schools and one of the chaperones at the game. “Talking to them during the game, I could just tell that they were in awe of the Aud, the game and everything happening around them. Not only did they see all happening; they were a part of the production. United Way gave them a night they’ll never forget. They got to go backstage, ON the stage, on the ice, ride the Zamboni… and they got to sit with the ‘big wig’ United Way board members who made it possible for them to attend. They felt like rock stars. We are all so appreciative.”

The students were selected to attend the game, on behalf of Underground Café, after winning the championship in the CYO basketball league. “Thanks to help from the Comets, and the support of our community, we were able to make double the impact in just one night, and show the face of the impact that’s made every day in our community. That is exactly what it means to LIVE UNITED,” said Brenda Episcopo, CEO of United Way of the Valley & Greater Utica Area.

One in five people in the Valley and Greater Utica Area requests help from a United Way funded program every year. These individuals are only able to receive the help they need because of the support of donors throughout the community.

For more information about United Way VGU and its funded programs, call (315) 733-4691.

To see more photos from the Utica Comets game, click here: United Way - Utica Comets Game with Underground Kings

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Brenda Episcopo Accepted into Worldwide Leadership Program
CEO of United Way of the Valley & Greater Utica Area Accepted into Exclusive Program 

(March 2, 2016) -- Brenda Episcopo, CEO of United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica Area has been accepted into the United Way Worldwide Executive Leadership Development Program for 2016.

The program (UWELDP) was designed as an opportunity for United Way CEOs to learn from industry experts and thought leaders, while strengthening their personal leadership toward collective community action. 

This is a transformational program that provides exclusive access to some of the most prestigious leadership development institutions in the world such as Center for Creative Leadership, Harvard Business School and Deloitte University. 

While United Way of the Valley & Greater Utica Area is an independent non-profit organization, its membership to United Way Worldwide provides exclusive opportunities and resources that help us better serve our local community.

The 12-month Executive Leadership Development Program is tailored to the critical challenges facing United Ways, the network and the nonprofit sector as a whole. This cutting-edge development experience will result in an enhanced ability for participants to lead with the self-awareness and collaborative leadership that creates the commitment needed for change and performance. Ultimately, this program will enable CEOs to achieve a higher level of effectiveness by learning from the industry experts and thought leaders and creating opportunities for strengthening relationships with peer CEOs in the program.

 “The United Way Board of Directors recognized that the community-wide impact Brenda’s leadership has had over the last five years has been exemplary.  As we wholeheartedly support the difference she’s made, we support and endorse her enrollment in this executive leadership training program,” says Gregory Morra, President of the Board of Directors. “This program will enable her expertise to be taken to newer heights which, in turn, benefits the two counties we serve at even a greater level than now.  We couldn’t be more proud of her acceptance.” 

Brenda Episcopo will be joined by the following United Way leaders from around the world, including: 

Cindy Adams, CEO Aloha United Way, Honolulu, Hawaii 
Cindy created the Hawai’I Meth Project that reduced meth use among teens and gained White House recognition as one of the most influential drug programs in the nation.

Claudia Aparicio, Executive Director Dividendo Por Colombia, Bogoa, Colombia  
Cindy is a lawyer with expertise in international law, public affairs and social innovation.

Afira DeVries, CEO United Way of Roanoke Valley, Roanoke, Virginia
Afiria has worked for United Ways many states, and is a mentor and trainer to fundraisers, having generated more than a quarter billion dollars in support of social innovation. 

Denise Durel, CEO United Way of Southwest Louisiana, Inc., Lake Charles, Louisiana
An expert fund-raiser that joined United Way in 2009 after a robust career with MDA.

Shawna Forsberg, CEO United Way of the Midlands, Omaha, Nebraska
Shawna is a marketing expert and serves on United Way Worldwide’s National Professional Council, advising UWWW in strategy for assisting nearly 1,200 United Ways around the world. 

Tari Jahns, CEO, United Way of Inner Wisconsin, Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin 
Tari was a long time board member, donor and volunteer for her local United Way, before becoming CEO. She created a Woman’s Leadership Council that raises funding for early literacy programs.

Patricia Jelinski, CEO, United Way Greater Victoria, Victoria, BC Canada  
Patricia brings 18 years of entertainment and venue management to her United Way. She serves on several BC committees and United Way Worldwide leadership level committees.

Michael McKnight, CEO, United Way of the Lower Mainland, Burnaby, BC Canada 
Michael has raised more than $300M in philanthropic funds in support of social services in the lower mainland.  He is a member of several high level committees in BC.

Amy Meek, CEO United Way of Citrus County, Crystal River, Florida 
Amy brings a background in finance to her United Way, where she moved from volunteer, to campaign chair, to the board to CEO.

Manish Michael, Executive Director United Way of Bengaluru, India 
Manish is a certified Corporate Social Responsibility professional, that brings impressive involvement with the youth movement of India.  He has represented Indian youth at several national and international forums and has been involved in his United Way since it’s inception. His Wake the Lake campaign brought together community members to address the shortage of potable water in Bangalore, for which he has received worldwide recognition.

Cynamon Mychasiw, CEO United Way of Brandon & District Inc. Brandon, MN Canada 
Cynamon spent much of her life in small rural communities, and brings a well rounded background having worked in all aspects of her United Way.  She considers this a passion more than a job.

Tony Okotie, Chief Executive, Liverpool Charity and Voluntary Services, the United Way in Liverpool, England
Tony’s expertise in voluntary sector management brings his United Way to the forefront of social action in the city and nationally.

Rev. Kenneth Robinson, M.D., CEO United Way of the Mid-South, Memphis, Tennessee 
Rev. Robinson assumed his position after 23 years of volunteer and board level leadership, and holds a Doctor in Medicine from Harvard Medical School and a Master of Divinity from Vanderbilt. This bi-professional synthesis has made him a strong leader in the areas of public policy, healthcare and community development at the highest levels of statewide and national impact.  

Rekha Srinivasan, Executive Director United Way of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, India
Rekha has 17 years of pan-Indian experience in community development oriented toward empowering social and economically disadvantaged groups. She has worked with poor women, women workers, tribal communities, fisherman communities and more and has authored documents for donor organizations like Goldman Sachs project on Women Entrepreneurship Development Program. 

Shelley White, CEO United Way Peel Region, Mississauga, ON Canada 
Shelley is an award winning community builder, involved in leadership of several Peel community efforts, including Peel Poverty Reduction, Civic Action Council, and more. 

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Assemblyman Brindisi, County Executive Picente, United Way & Community Foundation Host Poverty Simulation for Community Leaders
The Poverty Simulation, part of the Mohawk Valley Anti-Poverty Initiative, will raise awareness and understanding in the community; participants will experience a typical month in the lives of jobless or homeless individuals

What:  Poverty Simulation hosted by Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente, the United Way of Valley and Greater Utica Area, and The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties.

Who is participating:  Nearly 100 community leaders, including staff, board members and committee volunteers of The United Way and The Community Foundation; The Mohawk Valley Anti-Poverty Initiative Steering Committee, and local community leaders.

Where:  Mohawk Valley Community College, Utica; Jorgensen Athletic/Events Center

When:  Friday, February 26th, 7:30 to 10:30 a.m.

Description of Event:

No matter our income level, most of us encounter poverty on a daily basis.  Sometimes it’s as easy as spotting a homeless person asking for money on a street corner, while in other cases, it is harder to identify.  It might be the employee waiting for the bus home after losing his car, or the child arriving to school hungry and distracted, if she arrives at all.

Poverty simulations raise awareness and understanding of the struggles faced by low-income families and individuals by asking participants to make hard decisions with limited resources.  Simulations are organized for a wide range of audiences, from students and families, to corporate groups and community leaders.  They also provide an opportunity to highlight the work of many in our community to assist low-income individuals.

Over the course of one hour, participants experience four weeks in the lives of individuals and families who have lost jobs, recently become homeless, are living on government benefits, or are facing other challenges.  Participants receive packets at the start of the exercise containing their assigned family scenario; transportation passes; appliances and assets; and a limited amount of money.  With each 15 minutes of the simulation representing one week, the families visit volunteer-staffed tables representing banks, schools, grocery stores, pawn shops, government service agencies, employers, shelters, and community organizations.  The participants’ goal is to pay bills, find or maintain shelter and employment, and care for their families, while navigating both expected and unexpected hurdles.  The simulation is being administered by a team from Mohawk Valley Community Action Agency, Inc. and their certified Bridges out of Poverty facilitators.

For more information, please contact:  Assemblyman Brindisi’s office at (315) 732-1055; Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente’s office at (315) 798-5800; The United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica Area at (315) 733-4691, or the Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties at (315) 735-8212.

Media Advisory sent by the office of New York State Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, District 119

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Gala Proceeds to Help City Youth

(February 24, 2016) – Mayor Robert Palmieri and his wife, Susan, today announced that the United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica Area and the Stanley Theater will be co-recipients of the 2016 Mayor’s Gala, to be held on Saturday April 16th at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Utica.  Tickets are $50 per person.  

To purchase tickets you can visit the Mayor’s Benefit Gala website at or make checks payable to Mayor’s Benefit Gala and mail it to Ashley Bizzari at 1 Kennedy Plaza Utica, NY 13502.

The theme of the 2016 Gala is Brighter Futures!  The goal is to enhance opportunities and potential for Utica’s city youth through structured physical activity and introduction to the theater and arts.   

Over the last 18 months, United Way has been developing the foundation for the LIVE WELL initiative, which is designed to improve the health of children and increase physical activity.  With the proceeds from the Mayor’s Gala, this program will come to fruition this spring.

In the City of Utica, a staggering 40% of children are overweight or obese, compared to an 18.4% average throughout the Central NY region.  

With the LIVE WELL initiative, United Way will focus on reaching children who fall through the cracks by increasing access to healthy foods, implementing fitness programs and activities that all children enjoy, and providing knowledge and information to families to lower the childhood obesity rate in our community.

The LIVE WELL initiative builds upon the United Way’s already existing 40 year partnership with the National Football League to reduce childhood obesity through the Play 60 Program by reaching out to more kids on a consistent basis.   

The Stanley Theater will utilize its proceeds to offer children free theater camp to learn new theatrical skills and enhance the creativity of students.  The camp will offer training from area theater educators, performers and theater professionals for acting, dancing, singing, writing and “behind the scenes” work.

The camp serves as a great opportunity to boost students’ self-esteem and develop skills that will last a lifetime.   

Mayor Robert & Susan Palmieri stated, “We are pleased to support two great local organizations in an effort to improve the health and quality of life for children in our community.  We thank the many restaurants, businesses and organizations whose generous donations make the Gala a great night for all to enjoy; and we encourage the community to come out and support this worthy cause.” 

United Way Executive Director, Brenda Episcopo, stated, “It’s a thrill to partner with the Stanley Theater and Mayor and Mrs. Palmieri to create brighter futures for the children of Utica and beyond. The success of this gala, to build upon our initiative, will make changes that will last a lifetime.”

Stanley Theater Executive Director Jerry Kraus stated, “This is a wonderful opportunity for us to offer a free summer theater camp to Utica students. Who knows, we may see a few of our own local youth on Broadway someday, or on American Idol or The Voice, or even on tour across America and we can say it started here at The Stanley with the Mayor’s Gala funding. It’s also exciting to be working with the United Way to help with their youth initiatives. We’re looking forward to a great event!”

Press Release sent by the office of Mayor Robert Palmieri.

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Day of Thanks 2016

United Way Hosts Annual Day of Thanks
United Way Board, Staff & Volunteers Thank Local Supporters 

(February 23, 2016) - United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica Area hosted its Annual Day of Thanks on Tuesday, February 23rd. On this day every year, staff, the board of directors, volunteers and interns put their daily fundraising efforts on pause to take a moment and say “Thank You” to organizations, companies and individuals who make a commitment to LIVE UNITED.

This year’s Day of Thanks theme was “How Sweet it is to be Supported by YOU!” In hopes of reaching and thanking as many people as possible in one day, United Way took a three-pronged approach. Staff members, Brenda Episcopo, Kristyn Bucciero, Sandy Allbright,
Jordan M. Short and intern, Alyssa DeFrank, made personal visits to ten companies and organizations involved in the 2015 workplace campaigns. They brought with them fruit baskets, donated by Edible Arrangements, in order to say, “How Sweet it is to be Supported by YOU!


  • Adirondack Bank
  • Central New York Labor Agency
  • CONMED Corporation
  • Herkimer County Chapter, NYSARC
  • Jay-K Independent Lumber Corp.
  • Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute
  • TECT Power
  • UTC Aerospace Systems
  • Utica Gas & Electric Employee FCU
  • Utica National Insurance Group

Back at the office, emails and postcards were sent to more than 6,000 volunteers and donors who participated in the 2015 Campaign and phone calls were made to hundreds of donors by board members, Campaign Cabinet, staff, interns and funded partner representatives.

“We’re happy and honored to support United Way. We’ve done so for decades and will continue to,” said Jonas Kelly, Vice-President of Jay-K Independent Lumber Corp. during the Day of Thanks visit. “There are a lot of charities out there who don’t do what they should with your donations. Frankly, they’re no good. But giving to United Way is a no brainer. Every program they fund is thoroughly vetted and you know your donations are going to a good place. Their work is focused, and really making an impact.”

One in five people in the Valley and Greater Utica Area requests help from a United Way funded program every year. These individuals are only able to receive the help they need because of the support of donors throughout the community. 

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2-1-1 Mid-York Celebrates Anniversary with Launch of Searchable Website
2-1-1 Mid-York Recognizes National 2-1-1 Day

(February 11, 2016) - The phones have been ringing at 2-1-1 Mid-York for over a year, and our neighbors are getting the help they need! Today, on 2-11-16, we celebrate National 2-1-1 Day!

 The easy to remember phone number, 2-1-1, connects callers to the most comprehensive database of health and human services in Madison, Oneida and Herkimer Counties. Trained referral specialists are ready to answer the phones and provide referrals through a free, safe, confidential phone call, 24/7.  

2-1-1 Mid-York began taking calls in January 2015, with an official launch on 2-1-1 Day. This year, for the National day of recognition, 2-1-1 Mid-York will be launching a searchable website, Now, the full, comprehensive database, which is continually being updated, is available 24/7 for those who prefer to search on their computer or mobile device. 

In its first year, there were 3,141 referrals made as a result of 2,372 calls to 2-1-1 Mid-York. Callers have expressed the value they have found in utilizing 2-1-1 Mid-York. Here are some small examples of the types of calls and referrals that have been made. 

  • An elderly individual called because she was looking for financial assistance with roof repairs.  2-1-1 Mid York was able to provide her with information about a program that might be able to provide a low interest loan to help with the repairs.
  • A young woman called because she was looking for help providing a Christmas meal and gifts for her family.  2-1-1 Mid York was able to provide her with 2 referrals to help her and her family out for the holiday season.
  • A woman called 2-1-1 Mid York to find shelter for herself and her children because she was being abused by her partner.  The telecounselor that she was speaking to made sure that she and her children were safe and then referred her to several shelters and services that could help her remain safe.
  • A woman called 2-1-1 looking for assistance with a problem she’d been trying to solve for over a year.  Her apartment was infested with bedbugs.  Her pediatrician had confirmed for her that the marks on her children were from bedbug bites; but even with a letter from the doctor, her landlord had not resolved the infestation problem.  2-1-1 was able to provide her with two different referrals for assistance in resolving her dispute with the landlord.  
  • A local business executive received a phone call from an Uncle living out of state telling her that he was experiencing a health emergency.  The Uncle needed support to continue to live at home, but didn't know who to turn to.  The local executive was aware of 2-1-1 Mid-York. Through 2-1-1 Mid-York, she was able to immediately get connected to the 2-1-1 service in his area and help him get the assistance he needed so he could stay in his home. 
  • A caller reached out to 2-1-1 Mid York because he was concerned about possible abuse of his child from another primary caretaker.  The telecounselor that he was speaking to empathized with his concerns and offered to connect him to Child Protective Services so he could report the abuse.

United Way of the Valley & Greater Utica Area encourages area residents to utilize 2-1-1 Mid-York as a resource for all non-emergency needs, and to check out the newly launched website. 

The 2-1-1 Mid-York committee urges all residents to contact their elected officials to ensure that funding for the maintenance and development of 2-1-1 Mid-York is included in the New York State budget. New York Senator, Joseph Griffo, Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, Representing the 119th District and Assemblyman William Magee, representing the 121st District, have signed on in support! Please encourage your representatives to do the same.

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United Way Elects New Board Members
Felix Cano, Erin Gigliotti, Mary Clare Hatch-Pennello, Dr. Cathleen McColgin and Jacqueline C. Romano welcomed to United Way Board

(February 3, 2016) -- United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica Area is pleased to introduce new members of its Board of Directors. Erin Gigliotti, Dr. Cathleen McColgin and Jacqueline C. Romano were voted onto the Board at the most recent meeting, January 28, 2016. Felix Cano and Mary Clare Hatch-Pennello joined the Board in 2015. Together, these new members bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise, and will be strong assets to support United Way’s work in advancing the common good.

Newly Elected Members Include:

Felix Cano, Vice President and Relationship Manager, Berkshire Bank

Felix Cano is Vice President and Relationship Manager at Berkshire Bank. A graduate from El Paso Community College class of 1995, with an Associates of Science Degree in Architecture, 

Cano has worked in the banking and finance industry for 16 years.

Cano serves as the CNY Region Volunteer Committee for Berkshire Bank and sits on the Marketing & Community Engagement Committee at United Way of the Valley & Greater Utica Area. Cano is bilingual, speaking English and Spanish. Felix lives in Little Falls, NY with his wife, Kathy, and two children, Matthew and Samantha.

Erin Gigliotti, Manager and Media Specialist, Mohawk Valley Health System

Erin Gigliotti is a Manager/Media Specialist in the Marketing and Communications Department at the Mohawk Valley Health System. Prior to this position, she was a Communications Specialist for Faxton St. Luke’s Healthcare since 2008. She’s previously held positions in event planning and marketing at The Selva Group, a medical education company in Saratoga Springs, New York, and Upstate Cerebral Palsy.

Erin holds a master's degree in Information Design and Technology from SUNYIT Utica/Rome in Marcy, New York and a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications of Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York.

Erin is in her fifth year as a dedicated member of the Marketing & Community Engagement Committee at United Way.

Mary Clare Hatch-Pennello, Executive Director, Central NY Health & Independence Agency

Mary Clare Hatch-Pennello is the Executive Director of Central NY Health & Independence Agency, formerly Youth Empowerment Project.  Since moving to New Hartford in 2012, Mary Clare has been active in our community.  When she moved here, she called the United Way’s office and asked to volunteer.  She has served as Chair of the United Way Community Safety Net Panel for 3 years and is also a member of the United Way’s Community Investment Committee.  

Mary Clare is a 2013 Leadership Mohawk Valley graduate and currently serves on its Board of Directors.  In June 2015, she became Chair of St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church’s Parish Council.

Originally from Cortland NY, Mary Clare is a former high school English teacher and Director of Special Education.  She has her Bachelor’s Degree in English, Master’s Degree in Reading, Education and Certificate of Advanced Study from SUNY Cortland and is completing her thesis toward her Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Binghamton University.  She has three grown sons – Ryan and his wife Katie, Matthew and Christopher.

Dr. Cathleen C. McColgin, President, Herkimer College

Cathleen C. McColgin, Ph.D. began her tenure as President of Herkimer College on June 1, 2015. Dr. McColgin previously was Provost and Senior Vice President at Onondaga Community College (2008- 2015) and Provost of Cayuga Community College’s Fulton Campus (2001-2008). She also was a faculty member and Coordinator of the Nursing Arts Laboratory at Cayuga Community College from 1988 to 2001. A registered nurse, Dr. McColgin served as an officer in the United States Army Reserve as a member of the 376th Combat Support Hospital, obtaining the rank of Captain. She has served on several college-wide, SUNY-wide, and local community boards and committees and is an evaluator for the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Dr. McColgin holds an A.A.S. in Respiratory Therapy from Washtenaw Community College; A.A.S. in Nursing from Cayuga Community College; B.S. from Syracuse University’s College of Nursing; and an M.S. in Nursing and Ph.D. in Higher Education from Syracuse University.

As a member of the United Way of the Valley & Greater Utica Area Board of Directors, Dr. McColgin will serve on the Community Investment Committee.

Jacqueline C. Romano, VP of Global Procurement, The Fountainhead Group, Inc. 

Jacqueline C. Romano has more than 20 years of Executive Management experience with a leading manufacturer of applicators for the consumer lawn and garden and professional products industries.  Jackie has spent 28 years in various capacities at The Fountainhead Group, Inc., including Vice President of Global Procurement and Vice President of Operations.  The family company, founded in 1888, owns several patented technologies and an exclusive selection of brands reinforcing its position as a market leader in its industries.

Among her current position of VP of Global Procurement, Jackie holds a position as a part-time Adjunct Professor at Mohawk Valley Community College instructing students in Accounting, Criminal Justice and Business Law.  Jackie also currently serves as Director of The Oneida County Sheriff Law Enforcement Foundation, Committee Co-Chair for the House of the Good Shepherd Sponsorship Committee and Fundraising Chair for the Stevens-Swan Humane Society.  Past community engagements include Treasurer of the Mohawk Valley Export Council and various seats on local nonprofit committees.

Jackie holds a Bachelor of Science degree, Summa Cum Laude from Utica College of Syracuse University, a Master of Science degree in Economic Crime Management from Utica College and is a Certified Fraud Examiner.  

Jackie currently serves on the Resource Development Committee and Campaign Cabinet for United Way and will continue to do so as a member of the Board of Directors.

Individuals interested in leadership level volunteer opportunities with United Way are encouraged to email 

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$25M Anti-Poverty Program Will Promote Public-Private Partnerships to Increase Economic Mobility for All New Yorkers
New Initiative Will Fight Poverty & Implement Coordinated Solutions in 10 Upstate Communities
Coordinated State-City Partnership Model Based on Rochester Anti-Poverty Task Force

(January 10, 2016) -- Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today unveiled the twelfth signature proposal of his 2016 agenda: combatting poverty and reducing rampant inequality through the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative. The $25 million program will bring together state and local government, non-profit and business groups to design and implement coordinated solutions to increase social mobility in ten communities across upstate New York. 

The proposal is the latest in the governor’s anti-poverty agenda, a sweeping plan to restore economic promise and expand opportunity for all New Yorkers. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul made the announcement this morning at True Bethel Baptist Church in Buffalo. 

“Every New Yorker deserves a shot at the American Dream – and this smart investment does just that,” Governor Cuomo said. “This is a complex problem, but through strong partnerships we will expand economic opportunity – from Troy to Elmira – and put all New Yorkers on a path to succeed. I look forward to working with these communities to break down barriers and create meaningful change for millions of hard-working families across the state.”

“With the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative, Governor Cuomo is bringing a proven model of addressing poverty to areas around the state that need it most," Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said. “Together, we are empowering communities to identify regional needs and will help fund comprehensive solutions that address them to make a meaningful difference.”

Despite a growing economy and historic fiscal progress over the past five years, pockets of concentrated poverty remain. More than three million New Yorkers currently live in poverty, of which nearly one million are children. In these pockets, issues like inadequate housing, high unemployment, underperforming schools, poor health and neighborhood crime fuse together to create an increasingly complicated problem, requiring equally interconnected solutions.

The state modeled the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative on New York’s successful Rochester Anti-Poverty Task Force, part of a broad coalition of state and local government, business and nonprofit representatives working together to redesign and coordinate efforts to address extreme poverty in the Rochester area. 

New York will now replicate this model in ten upstate cities with the highest poverty rates in the state. Under the program, New York will provide $500,000 in planning and implementation grants, along with access to a $20 million grant pool to match private sector and foundation funding. The cities selected for the program were chosen based on concentration of poverty within the municipality. They include:

  • Syracuse
  • Binghamton
  • Oneonta
  • Buffalo
  • Utica
  • Elmira
  • Jamestown
  • Oswego
  • Troy
  • Albany

Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, the state will make targeted investments in capital projects to improve the quality, efficiency and reach of services that address poverty, including job training, public safety, and health and nutrition programs. Additionally, New York State agencies will provide support to affected communities to help bolster the availability of services.

Overall, the ESPRI program will:

  • Identify specific, measurable objectives to improve residents’ well-being and quality of life;
  • Better align public and private resources with community-based interventions that are successful in improving outcomes for residents;
  • Develop strategies that match promising practices to the unique challenges of each particular community; and
  • Build partnerships among public and private, municipal and nonprofit organizations to provide a continuum of solutions.

The cities selected for the program will soon launch planning processes, complete with a needs assessment and evaluation of existing plans, priorities and strategic objectives. The state will provide access to a dedicated team of state agency officials who will partner with the community to provide data, review various program models that address the community’s priority needs, help develop proposals or applications for state funding based on needs and opportunities, and structure framework to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions.

ESPRI will focus on using existing resources more effectively and purposely to end poverty, strengthen relationships between the business, public and nonprofit sectors in each community, and ensure greater coordination between state and local government to expand economic opportunity for all New Yorkers.

For more information, click here

(January 13, 2016) -- "We are thrilled at Governor Cuomo’s investment in combatting poverty and creating economic mobility for Upstate New Yorkers.  Poverty rates in Oneida County exceed statewide average; particularly for African Americans (45.3%), Hispanic/Latino (44.9%) and children (26.1%).  

In the City of Utica, more than one in four residents lives below the poverty level (29.6%).  Upstate NY has unique challenges to combatting poverty.  This investment will support work in our individual communities, while sharing ideas to create state-level change that will help thousands of residents break the cycle of poverty.  

The Mohawk Valley Anti-Poverty Initiative was created by Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi and convened by United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica Area. Together with County Executive Anthony Picente and The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties, we are bringing together human service agencies, community leaders and people living in poverty to turn our story around - creating mobility for residents and advancing the common good for all." - Brenda Episcopo, Executive Director, United Way of the Valley & Greater Utica Area

To learn about the Mohawk Valley Anti-Poverty Initiative, contact us at (315) 733-4691.

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United Way of the Valley & Greater Utica Area has met Better Business Bureau's 20 Standards for Charity Accountability and is a BBB Accredited Charity. You can view United Way VGU's full Charity Review online at