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Our History

Char-Em United Way has been part of the community since 1943. It was created in 1995 as the merger of United Way of Emmet County, United Way of Charlevoix and East Jordan, and Boyne Area United Way. These were preceded by a number of local Community Chests.

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During World War II, Emmet County residents looked for and found ways to help the war effort. They organized drives to collect scrap metal and old newspapers. They bought war bonds.They walked along roadsides and into fields to harvest milkweed pods. Kapok, the traditional filling for life vests and cushions, was unavailable during the war. The government put out an urgent call for milkweed fluff as a buoyant substitute: "Two bags can save one life," according to the effort's slogan. Milkweed pods from many states and Canada arrived at a Petoskey plant for processing.

There was no shortage of needs from war-related charities as well as traditional ones, such as perennial ones, like the Boy and Girl Scouts. In October 1943, 1 it was announced that several groups would unite to hold one community fundraising drive.

The Emmet County Community Fund Drive opened on Nov. 2, 1943. It was sometimes referred to as the Community Chest. The first-year goal was a minimum of $7,500 to benefit the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Salvation Army, American Society for the Control of Cancer, as well as a fund to assist Emmet County residents who were in the armed services.

"The Community Fund Drive has been set up to combine the above groups to save time and effort because of the war, and to reduce the number of solicitations formerly made in the county," the Petoskey Evening News reported. 

Allan McCune was the county chair, a role he repeated for many years. The Petoskey newspaper ran, on its front page, frequent updates about the campaign's progress and including lists naming the individual and business donors. Committees and existing organizations led the drive in Harbor Springs, Pellston, Alanson, Oden and Conway. In other towns and rural areas, the Emmet County War Clubs, under the direction of R.S. Lincoln, county agricultural agent, directed the campaign. The 1943 drive did better than its goal, raising $10,073 from Emmet County full-time and summer residents. It was distributed  to:

$3,070 Boy Scouts

$2,800   Salvation Army  

$2,600   USO                                 

$590      Girl Scouts                          

$275      Blue Star Mothers                      

$275      Buck-a-Month Club of Harbor Springs         

$250      American Society for the Control of Cancer     

$213      Expenses

Since the Blue Star Mothers and Buck-a-Month Club as well as the USO assisted those in the armed forces, "The Boys in Service are receiving the largest single donation from the drive," the Evening News reported. The 1944 Emmet County War Fund Drive had a goal of $12,000, "which combines the war fund activities as well as the community chest fund for the coming year," according to the Evening News. The effort did better than expected, with the results disbursed to:

$5,265    National war fund                 

$2,800    Salvation Army                 

$2,750    Boy Scouts                     

$750       Girl Scouts of Petoskey             

$150       Girls' organizations in Harbor Springs      

$40         Girl Scouts of Pellston             

$30         Girl Scouts of Alanson             

$30         Girl Scouts of Levering             

$275       Blue Star Mothers of Petoskey         

$275       Buck-a-Month Club, Harbor Springs        

$250       Cancer control society

The 1945 drive, which raised more than $12,700, also reflected the times. Called the Emmet County Community Chest and War Fund Drive, its slogan was "Be Generous in Victory." The money was distributed this way:

$5,182    National war fund

$2,800    Salvation Army

$2,750    Boy Scouts;

$750       Girl Scouts of Petoskey 

$150       Girl Scouts of Harbor Springs 

$40        Girl Scouts of Pellston 

$30        Girl Scouts of Alanson 

$30        Girl Scouts of Levering 

$275      Blue Star Mothers of Petoskey 

$275      Buck-a-Month Club, Harbor Springs 

$200      American Society for the Control of Cancer 

$250      Administrative expenses

The campaign has persevered, through name and constituency changes as well as economic challenges. For 1946, the goal was scaled back to $9,000, with largely the same beneficiaries: Boy Scouts, $3,600; Girl Scouts, $1,000; Salvation Army, $2,800; American Cancer Control Society, $500; USO $910, and administration $190. The campaign actually raised $450 more than its goal.

The following year, the Emmet County Community Fund campaign for the first time used the Red Feather emblem, the logo of the Community Fund campaigns in many cities. In some references, it was called the Red Feather Drive and in others the Emmet County annual Community Chest drive.

"Plans are being made to establish the Community Chest on a permanent basis, as the public appears to be very much in favor of the idea of one small campaign to cover all organizations except the Red Cross," director McCune said .

At the kickoff breakfast at the Hotel Perry, Petoskey Mayor John Perry told supporters, "We have come a long was in the last five years in conducting the Community Chest drives. From a handful of enthusiasts, you have grown into a small army of workers. I'm sure you're going to make good. You can't help it."

An information booth at the corner of Mitchell and Howard streets in downtown Petoskey served as headquarters for the workers throughout the drive, which had a goal of $10,000 and raised slightly more, to be divided among the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Salvation Army and cancer society.

"No one can say 'no'.... This is Emmet County's greatest responsibility," the Evening News editorialized. Organizers also announced a new agency, the Emmet County Charity Fund, to help in unexpected emergencies, such as when families were left homeless by fire. One hour after the drive opened in October 1947, every employee at the J.C. Penney Store had contributed, making it the first place in Petoskey to support the Community Chest 100 percent, the Evening News reported. 

Statewide, leaders of groups that previously had separate fundraising charity drives came together in 1947 to form the United Way of Michigan. Each local United Way is independent and responsive to that community's unique needs. Some still are called Community Chest or United Fund.

Emmet County's 1948 goal was $10,300, with several new beneficiaries. In addition to the Scouts, Salvation Army and cancer control society and the county charity fund, they included the Michigan Children's Aid Society ($100) and United Health and Welfare Fund ($1,000).

The 1949 drive, the Emmet County Community Chest and United Health and Welfare Drive, had a goal of $10,000. One business leader announced he was increasing his donation from $75 the previous year to $200.

"I believe that we should all do as much as we can to help the worthwhile agencies represented in the drive," the unidentified man was quoted in the newspaper as telling fund leaders as the drive began. "We should not think of how little we can give but how much we can do to help."


The 1950 Emmet County Community Chest kickoff featured the now-familiar Red Feather logo and the slogan, "Give Enough Through Your Community Chest." Its goal was $12,100. Beneficiaries included the Boy Scouts ($4,200), Salvation Army ($3,500), Petoskey Girl Scouts ($1,000), Harbor Springs Girl Scouts ($200), Alanson Girl Scouts ($75), Pellston Girl Scouts ($65), American Cancer Society ($500), United Health and Welfare Fund ($1,500), Michigan Children's Aid Society ($300), Petoskey recreation ($200) and expenses ($500).


A decade later, the goal for the 1960 Emmet County Community Chest had grown to $21,500. Of that, Petoskey was to raise 70%, Harbor Springs 20% and out-county areas 10%. Beneficiaries included the Scenic Trails Council, the school dental program, aid to children with mental retardation, the Emmet County 4-H Center and the Michigan United Fund. In addition, Petoskey had a goal of raising its own community chest of $6,950 for city recreation ($3,400), Girl Scouts ($1,000) and winter sports activities ($2,500).


A photo in the 1970 Petoskey News-Review shows a man looking at the Community Chest "thermometer" sign in Pennsylvania Park, updated to show fundraising progress as the campaign proceeded. That year's county goal was $33,000. As the deadline neared, organizers launched a door-to-door goal to meet the challenge. By 1975, the goal had increased to $42,420.

In the mid-1970s, the Emmet County United Way and the Petoskey Community Chest consolidated. The 1977 county campaign was noteworthy: Raising $42,275, it was the first time in eight years that the drive had achieved its goal, according to the local newspaper. By 1979, the goal had climbed to $63,000. But, as the economy fluctuated, some drives proved difficult to complete. 


The 1982 self-proclaimed "bold goal" for the United Way was $70,000, a large jump from the $46,000 collected in 1981. But that year, 13 Emmet County agencies had asked for a total of $97,000, a reflection of cuts in state and federal programs.

During the 1989 Emmet County drive, pranksters moved the reading on the drive's thermometer sign in Pennsylvania Park. One volunteer called it "optimistic vandalism" since the tampered-with sign showed the tally higher than the actual one at the time.


The year 1995 was a significant one as the United Way agencies in Charlevoix-East Jordan, Boyne City and Emmet County joined to form the Char-Em United Way, which continues to be the organization's name today. The expanded scope made sense based on community needs: In 1994, United Way agencies had served more than 17,000 people in Charlevoix and Emmet Counties.

The Char-Em United Way goal for 1998-9 was $190,000.


Twelve years later, for 2010, the campaign goal was set at $380,000, double the 1998 goal and 8.5% higher than the previous year. With the effects of the recession continuing in our community, the needs for programs and services we support are greater than ever.