United Way of Central Florida was established in 1980 with the merger of United Ways of Greater Lakeland, Bartow and Winter Haven. Originally, the United Way served the Greater Lakeland area beginning in 1944. In 1987, Highlands County was added to the service area and, today, UWCF covers the largest geographical area of any United Way in Florida serving Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties.
In 1982, Information and Referral (I&R) was added as a free, confidential service that helped people when they had no where to turn for emergency services. Today, United Way 211 is free, bilingual, available 24/7 and connects people with solutions that go beyond emergency food, shelter and disaster assistance. In addition, 211 powered by AIRS, refers people to help at locations nearest them. 211 has expanded to connect people to solutions for affordable childcare, affordable healthcare, mentoring, tutoring, job training, credentials, tax preparation, debt reduction, credit repair, savings planning and senior services.
Less than $1 million was raised in 1980 and close to $10 million was raised in 2019. In the 70’s, 17 agencies received funds raised by United Way. Today, our business has evolved and United Way leads collaborations, engages close to 2,000 volunteers and works collectively to provide community solutions. We focus in the areas of education, income and health because these are the building blocks for a good quality of life. Today, we invest in 105 service solutions delivered by 58 partners to drive change and improve community conditions.