United we stand: Staff and faculty have long invested in the community through giving to the United Way

Spring campaign aims to increase United Way giving throughout the UC Santa Cruz community, with payroll deduction a convenient giving option

When it comes to United Way giving, even Sammy the Slug, UC Santa Cruz's mascot, gets into the spirit of generosity. Here, the mascot is seen wearing a United Way T-shirt.
Laura Marcus is executive director of Dientes Community Dental Care, which is supported by United Way. Dientes offers affordable, high-quality dental care throughout Santa Cruz County.
United Way partners with the Santa Cruz County Office of Education for the Stuff The Bus drive, which collects and distributes school supplies for Santa Cruz County youth.

UC Santa Cruz has a long and rich tradition of supporting United Way of Santa Cruz County. This spirit of giving dates back to 1965, the year the fledgling UC campus opened to students on the former Cowell Ranch property.

Now that support continues with a spring campaign that is aimed to increase United Way giving throughout the UC Santa Cruz community.

Every dollar will go to an organization that partners with nonprofit organizations geared toward youth success, family financial stability, and health.

“Donors (to United Way) have a lot of confidence that their money is going to good, strong, viable organizations,” said Laura Marcus, executive director of Dientes, a Santa Cruz County nonprofit that provides low-cost dental cleaning and other services to low-income communities.

That’s because United Way does vetting for donors, looking closely at the services and outcomes of its partner organizations to make sure that donations have the greatest positive impact, Marcus said.

One popular method of giving to United Way is payroll deduction. Rather than hauling out their checkbooks every year, donors can choose an amount to donate per pay period, and earmark their contributions to the general fund and/or various initiatives and partner organizations. Every year, the deduction rolls over so there is no need to write yourself a reminder on a Post-It note stuck to the side of your computer.

In an online donation form set up for the local United Way, donors can also choose to donate in honor of a favorite cause or in memory of a loved one.

They could choose to support such causes as Community Investment Fund, programs such as Jovenes SANOS, Smart Solutions to Homelessness, Youth Violence Prevention, and initiatives such as health and financial stability.

Taking on complex problems

While the process of giving is remarkably easy, the money is used to address complex problems.

“The UC Santa Cruz donor is a sophisticated donor,” said Mary Lou Goeke, executive director of United Way of Santa Cruz County. “They understand that the root causes of problems are complex. There are no silver bullets to (stop) homelessness and give low-income people access to education and opportunities to excel.”

“When you invest in United Way, you are really getting to the root causes,” Goeke continued. “You aren’t just providing a temporary Band-Aid.”

United Way supports 22 partner programs. As part of its mission to increase the financial stability of families, the organization funds clinics where working people can get earned-income tax credits. United Way also partners with organizations that work with young people, from the YMCA to Watsonville’s award-winning Digital NEST founded by UC Santa Cruz alumnus Jacob Martinez, which provides youth and young adults ages 12-24 with free access to computers, software, Wi-Fi, and a full range of state-of-the-art digital tools and classes.

United Way also supports Big Brothers Big Sisters of Santa Cruz County. As part of its health initiative, it funds the Diabetes Health Center in Watsonville, as well as groups that promote healthy lifestyles, active transportation, and the reduction of carbon emissions.

Sharing leadership

But UC Santa Cruz does more than just send checks to United Way. The university also strengthens the organization with its leadership and expertise. Campus leaders have a long tradition of serving on the local United Way’s governance board. This tradition continues with UC Santa Cruz Vice Chancellor of University Relations Keith Brant, who is on the United Way’s board of trustees.

"I am honored to be involved with the board, and so impressed by the scope and breadth of the United Way," Brant said.

Over the years, "UC Santa Cruz and United Way have had a shared appreciation, and a shared mission,” Goeke noted.

A healthy path for youth

The organization has a major initiative to prevent youth violence by promoting positive outcomes, involving schools, law enforcement, recreation, and safe transportation.

“We are seeing that a lot of kids in South County are not participating in positive activities because they need safe transportation through gang territories,” Goeke said. To address this issue, the United Way is working to fund buses that can give those youths a safe passage to and from activity centers.

As part of this initiative, United Way is consulting with faculty experts such as sociology professor Craig Reinarman and psychology professor Craig Haney.

Financial giving, in other words, is only part of the total picture.

“It all comes from a shared sense of responsibility, and a need to give back,” Goeke said.

The following inspiring stories from United Way donors and partner organizations speak to the importance of that shared mission:

Why I give to United Way

Staff member and alumna Fiona Weigant: "This community has done a lot for me. I want to give back."

Fiona Weigant, education department manager at UC Santa Cruz, is more than just a proud and longtime United Way contributor. She is also the United Way employee campaign manager for the UC Santa Cruz/United Way campaign.

For Weigant, it’s personal. “I am an immigrant,” she explained. “I identify with the Santa Cruz community, and I want to give back.”

Weigant hails from Dublin, Ireland. She had been living in Paris in the years before she moved to Santa Cruz County.

After arriving in the Santa Cruz area, she attended Cabrillo College, then transferred to UC Santa Cruz, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in history in 2001.

“Now, I feel lucky enough to have a management position, a full-time job with health benefits,” said Weigant, who is now a naturalized U.S. citizen. “This community has done a lot for me. I want to give back to those who do not have. The United Way does not waste a penny. I know it will go to local organizations and local groups.”

Weigant feels that the UC Santa Cruz community has a special responsibility to give back because it is the single largest employer in the county. She said that it was “crucial” for the United Way to get strong support from UC Santa Cruz; the organization needs steady funding to support its initiatives to supply financial stability for families, provide opportunities for youth, and fund health services.

Like many of her fellow staffers and faculty, Weigant opts for payroll deduction. “It is wonderful because once it's set up, it rolls over automatically. And it can be as small as five 5 or ten 10 dollars a month.”

The impact of giving to the United Way

Vulnerable populations can get high-quality dental care from United Way beneficiary Dientes Community Dental Care, where one dollar is enough to cover the cost of a fluoride treatment for a child

At Dientes Community Dental Care, executive director Laura Marcus sees the immediate impact of United Way giving every day.

Donors, including UC Santa Cruz community members, make an immediate difference in the lives of the nonprofit organization’s clients.  “It is no joke to say that every dollar counts,” Marcus said.

Each dollar has an oversized impact. Dientes offers affordable, high-quality dental care throughout Santa Cruz County. The organization accepts Medi-Cal, and has sliding-scale fees for the uninsured.

Dientes offers dental exams, x-rays, cleanings, fluoride treatments, fillings, crowns, and other services at its 15-chair main clinic in Santa Cruz, a smaller clinic in Watsonville, and a third outreach clinic at the Homeless Services Center in Santa Cruz. A fourth clinic is set to open in June in Santa Cruz’s Beach Flats community.

The organization serves people of all ages, but it has an especially strong focus on children from low-income families, in underserved populations in the county.

One dollar is enough to cover the cost of a fluoride treatment for a child.

“This simple procedure can make the difference between a child having no cavities or a mouthful of decaying teeth by the time they're 5,” Marcus said. “Children miss school when they are in pain from dental issues. Tooth decay (among children) is a silent epidemic in our community.”

Donations also help Dientes visit schools and hand out hundreds of oral-care bags complete with brushes, toothpaste, and floss.

United Way provides Dientes with about $15,000 in funding each year. Donors ensure that Dientes can continue to offer high-quality care for vulnerable populations.

“You don’t necessarily have to give thousands of dollars and pay for dental chairs to make a big difference,” Marcus said. “Every donation makes an impact.”

Why we give to United Way

Faculty members show their support for the greater community through steady, long-term philanthropy

Kevin Karplus, professor of biomolecular engineering at UC Santa Cruz, has been giving steadily to the United Way for three decades now. “I make a decent living,” he said. “I feel that it is important for those who are privileged to give back to the community.”

Karplus donates through payroll deduction. “This method is far more convenient than writing a check every year,” he said.

Some of the money goes to United Way’s general fund, but the bulk of Karplus’s contributions supports Planned Parenthood and Second Harvest Food Bank.

Second Harvest is the first food bank in the state, and one of the oldest in the United States. Karplus praised the organization for its admirable efficiency as well as its ambitious scope. The food bank, by partnering with 200 agencies and programs, helps distribute millions of pounds of food every year to working poor families, children, and seniors.

Karplus is in good company when it comes to faculty giving to United Way. Professors across the disciplines contribute steadily to the organization, including linguistics professor Sandra Chung, an internationally renowned scholar and a recipient of UC Santa Cruz’s Faculty Research Award.

Chung, like Karplus, contributes through automatic payroll deduction. “This makes it very easy,” she said. “Giving is one small way of connecting to our local community.”

Chung earmarks her donations to Second Harvest Food Bank. “It’s a great organization, and it serves many different constituencies,” she said. “Having healthy food to eat is a necessity, and the food bank addresses that need.”

Visit the UC Santa Cruz United Way Campaign payroll deduction page.