Cheri Fromm’s first experience as a United Way volunteer was in Madison, Wisc., where she was an employee campaign coordinator, visiting different companies and asking employees for their support in filling out donation cards. “I was hooked then; and when we moved here, we were asked to do this and thought it would be wonderful to do it again,” she says. Her husband, Ron Fromm, chairman of the board of Brown Shoe Company, also has a longstanding support of the organization, having been on the board of directors for United Way of Greater St. Louis since 2000. And this year, the couple was named as co-chairs of the nonprofit’s 2013 fundraising campaign.
“We have always believed in volunteering because we feel so fortunate; and when you volunteer, you really do receive more than you give—we’re always blessed by that,” Cheri says. “We came to St. Louis 14 years ago, and we felt like this was our home. And when you look around, you realize that your neighbors need your help. We’re a community that helps each other—that’s what makes St. Louis special, you can feel that this is a community that cares.”
Since starting the job, the Fromms have been in a whirlwind of activity, meeting with members of about 50 different United Way agencies in a few short months, Cheri says. She has been particularly struck by the many organizations that help children—from keeping them out of trouble on the playground to providing computers for schoolwork, and making sure they progress through high school and on to college—as well as the senior care organizations and work for autistic persons.
At the Illinois Center for Autism, for example, the clients served “need special attention, but where do they go when they become adults, and how do they get a job so that they can grow and feel like responsible adults?” Cheri says. “This particular location has a restaurant where they make all the breads, the pasta, the cookies in the bakery, and they do all the service. They also have a craft-making facility, and they use flowers given by area flower shops and crush them to make them into clay and create beads and jewelry from them. It was amazing how proud they are of the things they were able to do.”
The work of 170 local nonprofits is supported by United Way, which raised more than $72 million in last year's fundraising campaign. This year's goal has yet to be set, but is expected to be even higher, Cheri says. "The thing that's amazing is that two-thirds of the money is raised by individual gifts," Ron says. "It could be as little as $2, $3, or $5 a week--or sometimes it's thousands of dollars because we have generous people in the community--but every gift matters. It's really that accumulation of effort that makes the difference."
In addition to the work being done by the United Way’s agency partners, the nonprofit’s own contributions to the community are “something to be enormously proud of,” Ron says. One of the most efficient United Way agencies in the country, the local organization delivers more than 90 cents of every dollar donated directly to its partner agencies. That’s in large part because of the many volunteers who make the nonprofit more effective, he says. “That’s not normal; it’s one of the top areas in the country, and it really comes from the generosity of this community,” he says, adding that one in three people in the area are served by a United Way agency each year. “So our message would be for everyone to consider a gift—nothing is too small and nothing is too big,” Cheri says. “It will all stay in the St. Louis area and help everyone. It may be your neighbor, the person you work next to or live next to, and it could even be yourself.”