Toward the end of the Great Depression, in 1937, the Poughkeepsie Community Chest was formed for the purpose of serving local charities, and in turn, the entire community. The idea was that the Community Chest would collect funds as well as coordinate relief services and provide grants to important programs that enriched and benefited the residents of Poughkeepsie. Decades later, United Way of the Dutchess-Orange Region holds on to these core values, mobilizing funds and volunteers every day to help make its area of the Hudson Valley safe, healthy and vibrant as it can be.
Since its inception in 1937, United Way has grown and evolved to meet the changing needs of the community. By 1942, the Poughkeepsie Community Chest joined forces with five Poughkeepsie War Relief organizations and became known as the Greater Poughkeepsie War Chest.
Throughout World War II, the Greater Poughkeepsie War Chest diligently collected funds and provided programs to help residents of the county through the contentious time. Between 1944 and 1946 alone, the Greater Poughkeepsie War Chest Chest allocated close to $150,000 to the National War Fund through the Dutchess County United War Fund.
In the years after the War, the Poughkeepsie Community Chest continued to allocate funds toward national security in the form of the United Defense Fund. Frances G. Rawson, President of the Community Chest in 1950, highlighted the synergistic relationship between the Poughkeepsie Community Chest and its member agencies moving into the new decade, saying, “Let us not lose sight of the fact that the Community Chest in itself is a non-entity. It exists only for the sake of its member agencies, and it will be successful only as long as the agencies provide programs which our city needs and wants.”
Across the Hudson River in Orange County, the Newburgh Community chest evolved into the Greater Newburgh Community Chest, Inc. after WWII in 1948 with the intention to solicit and collect financial contributions for the improvement, development or care of the health, welfare, and well-being of the residents of the City of Newburgh and surrounding areas. This also included dispersion of real or personal property in accordance with donors’ wishes.
In the early 1960s, the Poughkeepsie Community Chest evolved into The Dutchess County Community Chest & Council, a name more descriptive of its interests and activities, as well as its growing boundaries with a coverage area extended to include eight more towns: Hyde Park, Wappingers Falls, Pleasant Valley, Lagrange, Rhinebeck, Fishkill, East Fishkill and Beacon. The number of member agencies also steadily increased as well as loyal corporate partners to 40.
In September 1966 the Greater Newburgh Community Chest, Inc. changed its name to Orange Area United Fund, Inc.
In 1968, The Dutchess County Community Chest & Council Board of Directors accepted the legacy of Paul Samuels, a great friend of the Community Chest, who in his will left his Poughkeepsie home to the organization to become its headquarters, along with a supporting maintenance fund. The historic “Romanesque style” building, located at 75 Market Street, remains United Way’s Dutchess County headquarters today and at the request of Mr. Samuels, is known as the Evelyn Samuels Memorial Building.
In 1971, the Dutchess County Community Chest & Council changed its name to United Way of Dutchess County, Inc. During the 1970s, United Way expanded its community ties, introducing countless new programs. The Loaned Executive Program, announced in 1975 and celebrating 50 years in 2025, is still a core program of United Way today. It allows corporate partners to lend executive personnel to participate in all aspects of community engagement while they gain valuable experience in public speaking, project management, and social responsibility.
In 1978, the United Way Information Line was introduced in Dutchess County. The Information Line served as a referral system for professionals and for those seeking assistance in coping with questions, problems and concerns and was a forerunner of today’s national United Way initiative, 2-1-1. In 2011, United Way and its partners petitioned the Federal Communications Committee to designate “2-1-1” as a free and confidential helpline that links people to the services they need. Today, the Hudson Valley Region 2-1-1 is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to answer questions and help those in need.
United Way continued to adapt to the changing times in the 1980’s, stepping forward into the computer age in 1982 with the purchase of word processing equipment, made possible by grants from the Gannett Foundation and the IBM Corporation. A year later, Dutchess County was one of four partners chosen for installation of an IBM terminal linked to United Way of Tri-State’s New York City based IBM system, greatly simplifying campaign record keeping.
In 1987, Orange Area United Fund, Inc. and United Way of Orange County, (originally called United Way of Western Orange County, based in Middletown, NY) consolidated to become United Way of Orange County, Inc.
Throughout the 1990’s and 2000’s, United Way has continued to serve the community by providing relevant, proactive programs, including helping open the doors to AIDS Related Community Services in 1990. ARCS served as a center for information and referral for AIDS, helping shed light on a topic that, to this point, had been characterized more by rumor and misinformation than fact. Further, a 1994 partnership project with Dutchess County Government resulted in a county-wide response system for victims of domestic violence. The Universal Domestic Violence Response System for Dutchess County was given a grant from United Way, as an outgrowth of an independent investigation by United Way which uncovered a need for this system in the county. It was the first such program to be developed in New York.
In response to the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, and the subsequent war in Iraq, United Way joined the efforts of local veteran groups, departments of the county government, and local service agencies to host a community outreach event in Dutchess County. Workshops on stress reduction, relaxation, and information on services, benefits and entitlements were provided for military families, ensuring them that they had a community’s worth of support behind them.
In 2009, the concept “Live United” was announced. The idea was based on the idea that we all have something to share: a dollar, an hour, a voice. When we give together, work together, and speak together, we create a community where every child finds joy in learning, every family has a place to call home, and every person has hope.
In 2011, in an effort to better serve the Community, United Way of Dutchess County and Orange County United Way officially merged to become United Way of the Dutchess-Orange Region. That same year, United Way began to gather parents, donors, government partners, educators, business and nonprofit leaders, among others, in a series of discussions on the state of education. The outcome of this work was an aspiration: “We believe that every child will succeed in school and life. Together, we hold each other responsible and accountable for our children’s greatness.” The next two years were spent developing a model, called “The Blueprint for Change,” that would focus granting resources on prevention and evidence based practices with demonstrated effectiveness. This was adopted in 2013 and now serves as the basis for annual grant applications from area nonprofits serving our community.
Each year since 2013, United Way has continued to hold Community Conversations to help inform and refine the focus of what are our community’s greatest needs. In addition, in order to help build the capacity of fellow area nonprofits, United Way holds two free trainings per year for nonprofit professionals on key topics for organizational success. The Gift-in-Kind program evolved into quarterly Days of Sharing and through this effort between $80,000 to $100,000 a year in donated items are shared with nonprofits, faith-based organizations and schools. Also, United Way has formalized several volunteer days per year, helping organize teams of hundreds of volunteers from companies and organizations to help nonprofit organizations throughout both counties.
In 2016, United Way of the Dutchess-Orange Region was named the convenor for New York State’s Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI) in Newburgh by Mayor Judy Kennedy. Through monthly meetings with the Newburgh Anti Poverty Coalition, a task force of citizens and community leaders as well as conversations and feedback from community members, Newburgh ESPRI is now preparing to begin implementation of poverty reduction programs.
In 2017, United Way instituted a series of community conversations to better understand the needs of veterans in the community, joining the MISSION UNITED™ national initiative.
United Way of the Dutchess-Orange Region has proudly served the community since 1937, and although there have been obstacles and challenges, it continues to serve those most in need and provide hope and help thanks to a network of support from loyal partners and volunteers. While part of United Way’s international network, United Way of the Dutchess-Orange Region remains a locally governed and focused 501C3, fighting for the health, education and financial stability of every person in our community.
—Kerry Gaye, Marist College, United Way Summer 2017 Intern