United Way spotlights its partners at First Friday kickoff

CARA MORNINGSTAR/Sun-Gazette Kylie Ortity, director of resource development, left, Becca Slocum, director of communications and marketing, center, and Ashley Wenrich, director of finance and operations, right, set up for the United Way 2018 kick off event that starts their 2018 campaign. The kick off took place during Williamsport's First Friday on Friday in downtown Williamsport in a partnership with Lycoming Arts.

For the first time, the Lycoming County United Way held its kickoff event in conjunction with Williamsport’s First Friday in a joint effort to connect the community to the United Way’s partnerships.

The event starts the annual United Way fundraising campaign.

A section of Pine Street was blocked off for the United Way partners, which included organizations such as the YWCA, Journey House, Sojourner Truth Ministries, American Rescue Workers, North Central Sight Services and more to set up booths for patrons of First Friday to walk through and explore what the United Way partners have to offer for themselves.

“The whole idea is to feature the program partners we’re funding rather than focusing on the dollars,” said Ronald A. Frick, United Way president. “We want

people to focus on why we’re raising the money.”

As far as picking First Friday to kick off, he said it was the perfect connection to the community.

“First Friday is a public event. There has been a lot of interest in First Friday for years here in Williamsport,” he said. “This is a way to get an audience of people downtown and have them visit and talk with programs and partners to let them know the things we’re doing with United Way dollars.”

He found the partnership with Lycoming Arts to be perfect for United Way.

“The event is about community. United Way is an important part of the nonprofit community,” he said. “This is an important way for people interested in the arts and the community to see what’s available. This is a unique approach.”

Meg Finn, Lycoming Arts executive director, said this was the first time the section of Pine Street was blocked off specifically for a nonprofit connection for First Friday, but it will now be a regular thing every First Friday.

“How this came about is, when Lycoming Arts assumed the management role for First Fridays, I got a lot of requests from nonprofits to participate. We wanted to find a way for them to do that,” she said. “The old rules were that if a nonprofit is here, they have to provide an art project for kids and or sell something.”

She said she saw First Fridays as a celebration of the robust art scene but also the greatest recurring community venue where the community comes together around the local businesses, civic opportunities and art opportunities.

“I felt that it’s as much about community as it is about art,” she said. “I wanted to find a way to incorporate the nonprofit interface with the public so that people could engage. People who are seeking services … to have a place where the community says, ‘I know where they are, and I’m going to avail myself to this opportunity.’ So now, Pine Street, between Third and Fourth streets, is what we’re calling the Advocacy Alley so that nonprofits have a home.”

She said nonprofits will register just as a vendor would in order to set up there, but they will have a designated place with First Friday from now on.

“It’s a great opportunity for arts, the city and commerce to work together,” she said.

“We are just bringing all of our partners out into the community and letting them know that we’re here, this is what we do and this is who we support,” said Becca Slocum, United Way director of marketing and communications. “I think it’s a good way to get the community on board with what we’re doing. A lot of people aren’t familiar with everything that we do, but I think we’re letting the community see that we have many partners and what we actually do with the money we raise.”

YWCA Northcentral PA, a partner of United Way, had a booth available during the event.

“Without the United Way and the community, nonprofits would have a hard time existing. Thus, providing much needed services to solve community needs,” said Dawn Linn, YWCA Northcentral PA CEO.

Megan E. Bloom, YWCA Northcentral PA communications associate, said having the connection to the community through an event like First Friday helps show the community the importance of United Way.

“A lot of people don’t know what the United Way does. It’s this entity. People know that they help people, but I don’t think they get to see what the United Way does,” she said. “The community can see the lives and organizations that the United Way touches.”

For more information on the Lycoming County United Way, call 570-323-9448.

For more information on First Friday or how to get involved with Advocacy Alley, call 833-278-5926.