"We're all sharing the same road. We just want to make sure everybody is safe."
For more than 60 years, the United Way of Okaloosa and Walton Counties has been serving the community.
When it was first formed in 1957, it was called the Community Chest — a common name and endeavor for small towns in the 1940s and 1950s, said Rick Owen, executive director of the Okaloosa/Walton branch.
"When the United Way brand began to resonate across the country, the Community Chest became the United Way of Okaloosa County," Owen explained.
The organization is a United Way local affiliate, meaning that the organization may have the national branding, but money raised is invested locally.
Over the years, the organization grew just like the community. In the 1980s, the organization added Walton County to its name, broadening its reach. Owen said he believes that is one of the big milestones of the organization since it helped provide resources to a community with unmet needs.
In the past 10 years, the United Way of Okaloosa and Walton Counties has raised $500,000 to $750,000 annually for partnering agencies. Not bad for an organization with a name that originated as a square on the Monopoly board game.
But what Owen is most proud of is the work behind the dollars. The United Way of Okaloosa and Walton Counties aligns nonprofits to work together for one cause. One recent example, according to Owen, was when United Way, Catholic Charities, Homelessness and Housing Alliance and several ministries put their heads together to find housing for a 24-year-old woman who was living in her car.
"We're extremely proud and blessed," Owen said. "It's something you can't measure ... when three or four organizations come together to solve a problem. You have a greater chance of turning that person's life around."
In recent years, the United Way has been a helping hand in creating meaningful service. In the past 12 months, they've worked with St. Simon's Episcopal Church to help provide 75,000 meals for Children in Crisis and with Northwest Florida State College to put together 95,000 hurricane preparedness kits.
"Sometimes, you don't know where that partner is going to come from," Owen said.
In February, the United Way of Okaloosa and Walton Counties looked back on its 60 years during its annual luncheon. They awarded volunteers, business and agencies for their tireless efforts.
Looking ahead, Owen said there are some "big changes on the horizon." Taking a cue from the far-reaching campaign sites such as GoFundMe, Owen said he realizes that people want to see the change they help create. The organization will be working on creating "measurable feedback" for agencies and donors to not only identify problems in the area, but provide data on how programs are working.
It's all part of the mission of meeting the needs.
"This is a wonderful community we live in with unsung heroes doing the good work," Owen said. "We're all sharing the same road. We just want to make sure everybody is safe."
For more information on United Way of Okaloosa and Walton Counties, visit united-way.org.