It was a party 60 years in the making, even if it had to be delayed an extra year.

The United Way of Johnson County celebrated its milestone anniversary one year late on Monday, after pandemic safety precautions forced organizers to cancel last year’s annual meeting. The anniversary was belated, but that didn’t dampen the spirit of the event.

In addition to recognizing its long history, United Way supporters took pride in the fact that the organization was able to help more people than ever during increasingly trying times. More than $1.4 million came in for the United Way — a record for the organization.

“We’re going to celebrate it today, take advantage of it today, and recognize it with a birthday theme,” said Rob Brown, United Way volunteer.

What would become the United Way of Johnson County was born on May 9, 1961. Community and agency leaders from throughout the county had been working to create a United Fund, a central fundraising organization that would support community programs that weren’t being funded at the time.

The first campaign was held in the fall of 1961, which kicked off with a parade. Organizers raised more than $43,000 to be split up among organizations such as the American Red Cross, Boy Scouts of America, Campfire Girls, Girls Scouts, the Johnson County Mental Health Association and the Salvation Army.

Over the past 61 years, $21 million has been allocated to help Johnson County partner agencies.

The 2021-2022 campaign generated $1,466,949, which was short of the organization’s goal amount of $1,505,000, but still significant for the community, said Steve Powell, campaign chair for the United Way of Johnson County.

“We did much better than last year, and as I mentioned earlier, we continue to serve 17 much needed nonprofit human service agencies in the county, and eight separate programs. Thank you to all of your companies, individuals, who have given so generously this year,” he said.

The United Way of Johnson County is a nonprofit organization looking at the needs of the community, raising the funds and allocating those funds appropriately in order to meet the pressing needs of county residents. They support 17 agencies, including Gateway Services, Johnson County Senior Services and KIC-IT.

In addition, the group offers annual programs, from the Christmas Angels holiday give-away to the Operation Bundle Up coat distribution to the Fast Track school supply drive. Those programs help the neediest and most vulnerable members of the community.

“These agencies and programs provide valuable services. These services could be teaching young girls to be confident and smart so they can change the world, or providing senior citizens with transportation so they can see family and friends, or accompanying someone who is homeless, working with them to find a permanent place to live,” said Darin Hoggatt, Greenwood fire chief and board president of the United Way.

United Way organizers gathered more than 200 people at Garment Factory Events in Franklin to highlight those efforts, and thank all of the businesses and individuals who donated to the annual campaign.

A central point of emphasis was the United Way’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic since 2020. The agency as able to provide a mix of budget assistance, connection to resources, case management and financial assistance to people who needed it during the pandemic.

“There was no question that the United Way of Johnson County had to serve our community. We had to implement the economic assistance plan Navigating COVID-19. We had to figure out how to keep our programs going, because kids still needed coats and our agencies still needed money,” said Nancy Lohr Plake, executive director of the United Way of Johnson County.

Through the effort, 1,227 individuals were prevented from homelessness. Of those who received help during the pandemic, 75% were employed upon leaving case management, and 88% had a sustainable income, Hoggatt said.

The United Way provided financial assistance for 1,664 individuals, distributing more than $857,000.

In addition, another $376,544 was distributed to local organizations and agencies to help purchase personal protective equipment, and allow them to continue addressing issues such as education, mental health, isolation of the elderly and child care.

“It was a huge task, but we were very honored to serve our community during one of the most difficult times in our country’s history,” Hoggatt said. “We thank all of you for having confidence in our organization.”