UCSB’s United Way campaign kicks off today with organizers seeking to raise thousands of dollars for local children, families and seniors.
The annual campaign, which began at UCSB in 1995, runs until Feb. 26 and funds various service programs for the community each year. For 2010, the campaign has adopted a theme stressing the importance of continued community support and philanthropy even in a time of economic downturn. Last year, the UCSB chapter of United Way raised $125,692 from over 503 faculty and staff members to support community programs.

Sandra Featherson, UCSB United Way co-chair, said the committee hopes to see a 15 percent increase in faculty and staff participation this year, as well as more support from the student body.

“Every little bit helps,” Featherson said. “Students can encourage their fellow students to join or even bring a donation. …We’ve done more outreach towards students, so we’re hoping to earn more this year.”

Additionally, UCSB’s Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Michael Young sits on the board of directors for Santa Barbara County United Way, which was founded in 1923.

According to Steve Ortiz, Santa Barbara County’s United Way development manager, the campus chapter has shown consistent results since its inception. Organizers also plan volunteer training sessions, Valentine’s Day candy gram sales, a walk-a-thon and other special events to raise money to support Santa Barbara.

“We really listen to the community and look for the needs so we can make an impact in improving our local community,” Ortiz said. 

Ortiz said one of UCSB’s most successful United Way programs is Fun in the Sun, a summer camp held at UCSB that allows youth ages 5-16 to explore the UCSB campus.

“We take [the kids] to the touch tank in the Marine Biology Department, through anthropology, and [other] events,” Ortiz said. “It’s just kind of a fun day for kids to come and get acquainted with a college environment.”

Other county United Way initiatives have been known to offer year-round services, such as tutoring for homeless and impoverished children and teens.

Students can contribute by purchasing chocolate bars in the annual candy gram drive mid January, volunteering in events and organizing fundraising activities like the “battle of the bands” or “deal or no deal” events of previous years. A walk-a-thon event was scheduled for today to kick off the campaign, but was cancelled due to a chance of rain.