United Way of Washington and Oregon form regional group

By Julie Muhlstein
Everett Herald writer

They’re not legally married yet, but United Way associations in Washington and Oregon are pairing up in an effort to do more for their communities. Peter Thiesen, president of United Way of Whatcom County, will be the new organization’s treasurer.

The leader of United Way of Snohomish County will serve as the first chairman of the new organization, United Ways of the Pacific Northwest. Dennis G. Smith, United Way of Snohomish County’s president and CEO, will continue in that role as he fills the regional group’s chairmanship for its first year. His new role, like his service on several local boards, is unpaid.

“We’re excited about the possibilities ahead of us,” Smith said in a statement announcing the change. On Monday, he said the regional group, crossing state borders, will be a first nationwide.

Thirty-nine local United Way organizations — 23 members from United Ways of Washington and 16 from the Association of United Ways in Oregon — will be part of the new group.

United Ways of the Pacific Northwest will act as a trade association for its member organizations, which pay dues to belong.

There are two big goals for the change, said Smith and Neil Parekh, vice president of marketing and communications for the local United Way. A regional entity will bring opportunities for joint training and a greater voice in public policy.

“Working together, we can have a stronger influence in each of the state houses,” Smith said. As an example of how that helps locally, he pointed to the state organization’s work in Olympia to push for North Sound 211, the call-in line connecting people here to health and human services. The referral service is operated by Volunteers of America Western Washington.

And by putting two state organizations together, larger training events with high-quality presenters will be possible, they said.

Jim Cooper is president and CEO of United Ways of Washington. Based in Olympia, he will assume that role for the regional group. Keith Thomajan, president and CEO of United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, will serve as vice chairman.

The merger won’t be sealed for about two years.

At a November meeting, the Washington and Oregon groups agreed to begin working together “as if we were one regional association,” Smith said. But they are separate 501(c)(3) nonprofit groups with their own bylaws.

“United Ways of Washington still exists legally, but we’re not using that name,” Parekh said.

If the pairing works as expected, new bylaws will be written and United Ways of the Pacific Northwest will be official.

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

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