United Way improves lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities around the world to advance the common good.

The United Way of Northwest Illinois, Inc. is a leader in providing human and financial resources in response to identified health and human service needs to improve the quality of life in Carroll, Jo Daviess, and Stephenson Counties.

We aspire to be the critical link which brings together our diverse communities to build stronger, healthier and more sustainable communities as cost effectively as possible.

Our Community Impact 

The United Way of Northwest Illinois partners with many different agencies for various programs that advance the common good. United Way serves as the critical link which helps to bring together our diverse communities through our partnerships with community organizations to build stronger, healthier, and more sustainable communities. 

Community Impact is a philosophy premised upon improving lives by mobilizing communities to create lasting and long term changes. This is done by achieving measurable results through strategies that focus on community systems and resources. Community Impact brings organizations, community leaders, and community members together in a structured way, to achieve social change. As the United Way moves towards 100% Community Impact funding, we are also building a culture that fosters respect, relationships, and trust among all participants. Community Impact funding is centered around our three pillars: Education, Financial Stability, and Health. 

Read more about becoming a UW Partner Agency here


Community Impact can be a hard concept to wrap your mind around as it differs greatly from United Way's traditional approach.  To help illustrate how community impact can change our community's story please read the following story:  

A villager is walking by the river early one morning. The villager looks out into the water and sees a baby floating down the river. Horrified, the villager races into the water, grabs the baby, and brings the baby to shore. The baby is fine.

Relieved, the villager looks back into the water and sees another baby floating down the water. The villager again dives into the water and rescues this baby as well.  Once more the villager looks into the water and sees dozens of babies floating down the river.  The villager calls out an alarm, and the entire village comes running to the river to rescue as many babies as they can before the water carries them away. This is a village that is mobilized. Every villager is at the river, trying to save the babies from the water.

This is a village that is improving lives. Many of the babies are being saved. But the babies keep on coming . . . because no one is going upstream to put a stop to the ogre that is throwing the babies into the water in the first place.  The Community Impact approach would say, instead of just waiting down by the rive to save the babies, United Way needs to gather a contingent of villagers to go upstream and stop the ogre.  Otherwise, we will be pulling babies out of the water forever.  Don't get us wrong, pulling babies out of the water is essential. How can we live with ourselves if we don’t try? But it is by going upstream to redirect the ogre and put its energies to better use that we create a lasting change in the conditions that are causing this nightmare to begin with.

The story goes that a villager, while strolling alongside a peaceful river, discovered a baby floating in the water.

It quickly became obvious to the villager that the infant was alone, so he immediately jumped into the water and pulled the baby to safety.

Assessing his options, he looked back to the water, only to see three more babies floating along. Again, he jumped in and brought the babies to safety. But the babies would not stop coming, and before long there were scores of them floating down the river.

The man rushed back to his village and called out to his neighbors to help. As soon as they reached the river, they began to rescue the infants. Before too long, a small group left the rescue operations and set out for the head of the river.

Upon their arrival, they discovered the source of the problem — an ogre was tossing the babies into the river. The villagers realized that, as important as it was to rescue the babies from the river, it was just as important to get rid of the ogre.

This might seem like a silly story to some, but I believe it illustrates the work we, as United Way, are called to do in our communities. United Way of the River Cities has a rich history of addressing the needs of people in the region.

For many years, United Way’s approach was to direct dollars to services that assisted people with immediate needs, or who were in crisis. One could say it was a reactive approach, much like pulling babies out of the river.

Several years ago, in response to community needs, United Way embarked on a more proactive approach. We decided to deal with the ogre.

Most of the issues our communities struggle with every day are complex — substance abuse, lack of life preparation skills, and childhood obesity, to name just a few.

These issues cannot be addressed by only one organization or system, and are issues that will take years, not months, to solve.

To improve conditions in our communities and make the greatest impact, United Way must deal with the ogre, or the underlying issues that create these problems. Only when we begin to tackle them together can we achieve results.

United Way’s focus now is two-fold — continue to support safety net services to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens have their basic needs met, and invest in programs that keep people from reaching a crisis point in their lives.

While “the poor will always be with us” it would be wrong not to do everything we can to try to significantly reduce the number of people who struggle to meet their basic needs.

We know that we cannot solve the region’s problems on our own.

It must be done in partnership with health and human service agencies, the business community, local government, educational systems, neighborhoods, and other networks.

In the past, United Way’s primary role in the community was to meet a fundraising goal each year. That was our “end.” Today, our fundraising efforts are a means to an end.

Our primary role now is to create opportunities for a better life for all. When we do that, with your help, everybody wins!



The goal of the United Way of Northwest Illinois' Education Pillar is for 100% of students in Jo Daviess, Stephenson, and Carroll Counties to be considered "ready for kindergarten." This goal will help increase the number of students in our communities that are reading at grade level by third grade. This is important because research shows that if children are not able to read at grade level by third grade it has significant and long-term consequences not only for each of those children, but for their communities and our nation as a whole.

Click here to view our Education Initiative Page

Under the health pillar the United Way of Northwest Illinois' goal is to improve the health of our local community through a wide variety of programs and initiatives. The new initiatives are centered around one of our two focus areas: social, physical, and mental health well being and chronic disease management. These focus areas are important because physical health, diet, and social engagement have an impact on mental health; good mental and physical health can improve an individuals sense of self and academic engagement; and more than half the population of Illinois is affected by a chronic disease (IL Department of Public Health)

Click here to view our Health Initiative Page

Under the Financial Stability pillar the United Way of Northwest Illinois' goal is to increase resiliency in our communities by providing services that equip families and individuals with the tools and resources to stay or become economically independent. This goal will help reduce the number of barriers that prevent individuals and families from becoming self-sufficient. This is important because as many as one-third of working Americans do not earn enough money to meet their basic needs. Wages have not kept pace with the rising cost of housing, healthcare, and education. Currently, 40 million Americans are working in low-paying jobs without basic health and retirement benefits. 

Click here to view our Financial Stability Initiative Page




  • Amity Society of Freeport
  • Boys & Girls Club of Freeport & Stephenson County
  • Family YMCA of Northwest Illinois
  • Dolly Parton Imagination Library


  • RAMP
  • Riverview
  • Tyler's Justice Center
  • Voices of Stephenson County
  • Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois

Financial Stability:

  • RAMP

Basic Needs:

  • FACC (Freeport Area Church Cooperative) - Shelter & Pantry
  • Golden Meals/NICAA (Northern Illinois Community Action Agency)
  • Senior Resource Center 
  • Norman C Sleezer Youth Home 
  • Boy Scouts of America: Blackhawk Area Council 
  • Rolling Hills Progress Center (Carroll County) 
  • The Workshop: Galena 
  • American Red Cross 
  • Catholic Charities
  • Malcolm Eaton Enterprises 
  • New Horizons Counseling Center 
  • Salvation Army 


Click here for
RFP Education
for Fiscal Year 2023-2024


Click here for
RFP Health & Well-being
for Fiscal Year 2023-2024

Financial Stability

Click here for
RFP Financial Stability
for Fiscal Year 2023-2024

Basic Needs

Click here for
RFP Basic Needs
for Fiscal Year 2023-2024