A History of United Way for Southeastern Michigan

We have a long history of building relationships to improve lives and communities. Take a look back and see where we’ve come from.


In Denver, religious leaders create the Charity Organizations Society, which would become the first United Way chapter in the nation. The organization planned and coordinated local services and conducted a single fundraising campaign for 22 agencies.


Charities Organizations Society begins in Oakland County.


Charities Organizations Society becomes the Detroit Community Union, the predecessor to United Way for Southeastern Michigan. The organization formed in order to promote social services, such as child care, family, health, recreation and community planning.


The American Federation of Labor officially charters the United Auto Workers, which helps establish fair labor practices, better wages and a rising middle class.


Detroit Community Union’s fundraising arm, the Detroit Community Fund, becomes the War Chest. The organization helped families affected by World War II.


World War II ends, and the War Chest becomes the Community Chest of Metropolitan Detroit.


United Foundation is established as an independent organization to raise funds for human service organizations through the Torch Drive campaign. Detroit becomes the first major city to organize a United Way fundraising drive within companies. To bring attention to this new workplace campaign effort, the organizers build a wooden structure in the median of Woodward near Jefferson with a torch at the top.


Pontiac United Fund is incorporated.


Council of Social Agencies of Metropolitan Detroit and the Community Chest become United Community Services of Metropolitan Detroit, which provides planning, fund distribution, and information and referral services.


A 60-foot metal torch is constructed and placed at 1 Woodward as a permanent symbol of the Greater Detroit campaign, replacing the wooden torch structure that had to be constructed and taken down each year. The torch was sculpted by Dario Bonucci and serves as a symbol of the concern and generosity of the community. It signaled a beacon of hope during a time of civil unrest.


Pontiac United Fund becomes United Way of Pontiac-North Oakland and adopts the United Way national logo.


United Ways located in the United States and Canada raise $1,038,995,000 — the first time in history that an annual campaign of a single organization raises more than $1 billion.


United Community Services of Metropolitan Detroit and United Foundation, the independent organization that was created to raise funds through the Torch Drive campaign, move to a joint location in Detroit.


United Way of Pontiac-North Oakland becomes United Way of Oakland County.


United Foundation and United Community Services of Metropolitan Detroit merge to United Way Community Services.

The Atlanta Committee chooses United Way of America, along with local chapters, to serve as the primary provider of community support and volunteer services for the 1996 Olympic Torch Relay.


United Way of America identifies a strategic plan to focus on healthy children, healthy families and healthy communities.


The boards of United Way Community Services and United Way of Oakland County vote to create a new organization – United Way for Southeastern Michigan.


The United Way Financial Stability Partnership™ is introduced. The national initiative empowers low- to moderate-income people to achieve long-term financial stability. United Way’s annual revenue tops $4 billion for the first time, continuing its status as the nation’s largest charity.


United Way Worldwide adopts its Live United tagline while United Way for Southeastern Michigan adopts the Agenda for Change – a ten-year plan to make a measurable impact on the greater Detroit region by ensuring everyone has greater access to Education, Income and Basic Needs resources.


In partnership with Detroit Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), United Way for Southeastern Michigan launched five Greater Detroit Centers for Working Families (CWF) sites, offering budget counseling and career training opportunities. Today, there are 12 CWF sites.


United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s Board of Directors set a goal of turning around 30 high schools in Greater Detroit where the senior class size had dwindled to 60 percent of what it was as a freshman class for three consecutive years. Local schools that were committed to achieving graduation rates of at least 80 percent were invited to apply for a Turnaround Challenge. This program was named the High School Turnaround Initiative.


The United Way for Southeastern Michigan Early Learning Community (ELC) model was piloted as a way to give parents and caregivers additional tools to positively impact the growth, education and health of young children. To date, there are more than 60 ELCs nationwide where more than 23,000 caregivers have been served.


The Detroit Regional Workforce Fund (DRWF) is formed with private and public investors with United Way for Southeastern Michigan to support collaboration among employers and workforce development partners, focusing on green jobs, the hospitality industry and the health care sector. The DRWF went on to train hundreds of workers in Detroit through 2020.


The GM Foundation made an unprecedented donation of $27.1 million to activate a second class of Turnaround Schools, named the GM Network of Excellence.


In Southeastern Michigan, more than 300,000 children rely on free- or reduced-price school meals. In response, United Way for Southeastern Michigan starts its summer meal programming. In its first year, the sites served 724,912 meals to children in the region. That number would grow to more than 1.2 million.


The United Way brand celebrates its 125th anniversary.


United Way for Southeastern Michigan launches six Community Financial Centers (CFCs) in Greater Detroit to assist families in getting back on the path to financial stability by focusing on affordable financing options and financial coaching. Several CFCs would go on to become Centers for Working Families.


Five hundred students who historically would’ve dropped out of high school under the status quo graduate from our Turnaround High Schools.


United Way for Southeastern Michigan celebrates 100 years of the nonprofit’s presence in Southeastern Michigan.


United Way for Southeastern Michigan moves to a new home. Our offices are now located inside of the historic Fisher Building in Detroit’s New Center neighborhood. We remain committed to having a presence in the heart of the community we serve.


When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, United Way chapters across the country led efforts to help our communities respond and recover. Here in Metro Detroit, United Way for Southeastern Michigan launched the COVID-19 Community Response Fund, raising more than $15 million to support hundreds of nonprofits, child care facilities, school districts and grassroots groups serving hundreds of thousands of families across the region.


Hosted our sixth annual Women of Influence Summit. Since its inception in 2017, this event has raised nearly $1 million to support early childhood education in Southeastern Michigan.