The More You Learn About United Way, the More Involved You Want to Be

United Way of Central Alabama (UWCA) has been an important part of Shirley Fagan’s life for decades.

Visiting Allocations Team Chair Shirley Fagan

Shirley was working for O’Neal Steel when the company launched its first internal campaign to encourage employees to donate to UWCA.

She was tapped to serve as campaign coordinator, even though she wasn’t a donor herself at the time. That changed, however, after hearing the first speaker in support of United Way. The stories heard were enough to sell her on the impact a gift to UWCA can have.

“We had [United Way] partner agency speakers at every meeting, and UWCA was very intentional in arranging those, making sure that each group got to hear from an agency that they could really get into. Through that process, I got to know maybe about 10 agencies, which really piqued my interest in United Way. I wanted to know everything I could about this incredible force of good in the community.”

After two years, her tenure as campaign coordinator came to a close, but Shirley wasn’t quite ready to end her involvement with United Way. Upon the suggestion from a UWCA employee, she joined a Visiting Allocations Team, or VAT, which evaluates funding requests and recommends annual allocation amounts to United Way partner agencies.

The VAT process was formed to ensure that United Way of Central Alabama is supporting the needs of people throughout our five-county (Blount, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Walker) area. It’s a testament to the passion our community has for giving back, as hundreds of volunteers serve on these teams, which are specially curated to represent a cross-section of social strata and demographics and reflect the interests of donors from across the community in a fair, informed and unbiased way.

Serving as a member of a VAT team is a serious undertaking. Each team is assigned three agencies and spends two meetings delving deep into its allocations applications. The third meeting involves the volunteers heading to the agencies for in-person site visits, so they can see the agencies’ impact with their own eyes. Then, the volunteers reconvene to discuss how much each agency will receive – just before the allocations hearing held on the last day of the campaign, which is usually during the second week of December. The VAT commitment spans several months but offers unique insight into UWCA’s partner agencies and the countless ways a donation to UWCA can help individuals and impact the community as a whole.

Shirley, who is now Director of Communications at O’Neal Industries, said serving on allocations teams was useful to her in a variety of ways.

“It helped me see firsthand where my donations were going and how they were being used in the community,” she said. “I also got the chance to learn about smaller, lesser-known agencies that I didn’t really know anything about. It made me feel good to know that there’s a standard for every UWCA partner agency.”

Through her work on VAT teams, Shirley also discovered something that’s become a personal passion: working with UWCA partner agency Better Basics. The education-focused nonprofit’s presentation mentioned a program that sent volunteers to read to elementary students twice a month.

“My first thought was, ‘I would love to do that!’ So I did, for five years,” she laughs. “It was the best part of my week!”

Her passion was palpable, and she was asked to serve on Better Basic’s board of directors for a six-year term, eventually even becoming President of the board. This position, although “rewarding beyond measure,” was demanding to the point at which she no longer felt able to make the time commitment to the VAT process. At the end of her term, however, she was excited to rejoin the Visiting Allocation Teams, noting how much the experience – and UWCA as a whole – has changed and improved through the years.

“UWCA has this vision, this drive to continue improving internally, so they can make great things happen across the community, and you see that firsthand as part of the allocations process,” Shirley said. “Instead of just saying ‘oh, we’ve always done it this way,’ UWCA asks for feedback from the VAT teams and tweaks the process every year. And that’s just one example! Look at Bold Goals, Priority Vet, Meals on Wheels…it amazes me to see their dedication and evolution!”

Passionate volunteers like Shirley Fagan show the amazing things that can happen when we LIVE UNITED. To get involved, you can donate to our annual campaign, peruse volunteer opportunities on our volunteer platform, commit to make a difference in our community and maybe…even become a VAT member yourself.