Boeing workers pledge $1.8 million to United Way of Snohomish County

EVERETT — United Way of Snohomish County has reason to celebrate.

The Employees Community Fund of Boeing Puget Sound is making a $1.8 million pledge for 2012.

That’s more than the group gave in 2011.

“We are really excited by the fact that it is $175,000 more,” said Liz Warman, Boeing’s director of Global Corporate Citizenship Northwest Region.

That’s good news for United Way of Snohomish County, which altogether raised about $9.9 million last year to support area nonprofit agencies and its own efforts.

“This is the biggest contribution we receive each year. We are extremely grateful,” said Dennis Smith, president and CEO of United Way of Snohomish County.

“Each year we’re raising around $10 million. And this represents almost 20 percent. Those increased dollars mean more folks we’re able to help here in the community,” Smith said.

Warman said the increase could be due to increased Boeing employment in the region, larger donations by individuals, or both. The Boeing Co. employs about 80,000 workers in the Puget Sound area.

“Our employees are extremely generous,” Warman said. The company, she said, does not track the size of donations or the percentage of workers who contribute to the fund. “All the employees who participate make a significant contribution,” she said.

Boeing retirees also contribute to the 60-year-old fund, founded in 1951 by Boeing workers.

The pledge will be officially announced Tuesday at Bridgeways, a nonprofit agency serving adults who have chronic mental illness.

Robley Evans, president of the fund’s board of trustees, is expected to present Smith with a check for $1,859,300, representing the 2012 pledge.

Bridgeways is one of 39 nonprofit agencies and 102 programs supported by United Way of Snohomish County. The Everett-based Bridgeways, which provides clinical services, employment and other help, also has received separate grants directly from the Employees Community Fund.

United Way of Snohomish County operates on a three-year grant cycle. “We’re essentially halfway through a three-year grant, from 2010 through 2013,” said Jeff Patterson, director of development and marketing for Bridgeways.

From that grant, Patterson said, Bridgeways gets $40,000 a year from United Way. “It’s a good chunk of our clinical services,” he said. “We serve very low-income people. Many do not have their own medical insurance.”

United Way support is all the more important as government funding for mental health care faces possible cuts, Patterson said.

“Most people enter Bridgeways through clinical services. And the number of homeless clients has been growing over the last few years,” he said.

Along with a transitional apartment building, Bridgeways runs a business that helps clients gain work experience by assembling aerospace parts. About 50 to 60 people are employed, many working part-time. With mental illness, Patterson said, it’s common for people to have big gaps in employment. “Our job is a great stepping stone,” he said.

A client who came to Bridgeways in April after struggling with depression, substance abuse and homelessness is scheduled to speak at Tuesday’s event. Patterson said the woman has advanced from Bridgeway’s supported-employment program to a data-entry clerk job.

Her story is just one example of the difference being made by United Way and the Employees Community Fund of Boeing Puget Sound, he said.

“What great community partners they’ve both been,” Patterson said.

The Employees Community Fund takes the place of a United Way campaign for Boeing workers. United Way of Snohomish County also receives significant gifts — $800,000 in 2010 — from the Boeing Co. itself.

The Employees Commmunity Fund of Boeing Puget Sound, expected to total about $9.6 million for 2012, is managed by an eight-member board of trustees made up of Boeing workers, Warman said. “We have a relationship with 11 United Ways in Western Washington,” she said. The largest grants go to the United Way organizations in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties.

“We’re very indebted to them,” said Smith, head of United Way of Snohomish County. “We deeply appreciate the relationship we have with employees at Boeing.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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