Lifting our community in a time of uncertainty

By Bobbi Watt Geer, president and CEO of United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania

When I assumed leadership of United Way nine months ago, I thought a lot about the importance of building strong partnerships with foundation and agency leaders throughout our community. Collaboration has always been at our core because we know that we make the biggest difference when we work with others in the community to solve problems and improve lives.

I also thought a lot about finding new ways to support vulnerable members of our region. And I thought, big picture, about how we can make southwestern Pennsylvania a better place. As it turns out, all of this would quickly be tested in circumstances none of us could have imagined.

The COVID-19 crisis has pushed those of us in the human services sector to respond in new, unprecedented ways. Here on the front lines, we see the mounting financial and emotional strain that’s being placed on thousands of local individuals and families, and it’s our responsibility to do everything we can to help our region get through this crisis.

There’s a reason “United” is in our name.

At United Way, our mission is to mobilize our community to solve problems and provide vital resources to people who need them. We’ve always relied on our partners, from corporations to agency providers, to make the greatest impact. That’s why it’s a natural time for us to band together with the philanthropic leaders in our community — The Pittsburgh Foundation, The Heinz Endowments, the Hillman Family Foundation, and the Richard King Mellon Foundation — to help our community as quickly as we can.

Together, we have created an Emergency Action Fund to assist our region’s most vulnerable during this difficult period, which is an important step toward helping us achieve long-term recovery.

We’re facing an exceptional test, but we’ll get through it together.

These are extraordinary times. But there’s nothing the people of our region haven’t been able to accomplish when we’ve worked together. We’re strongly encouraging the public to help by donating what they can. These gifts will be used to address the most urgent needs facing our community in the wake of this crisis, including:

  • The economic impact of reduced and lost work
  • Immediate needs of economically vulnerable residents caused by closures and cancellations
  • Increased demand for medical information and support for health care
  • Communication and research support to better assess needs and improve information flow

You can help by making a donation today at

United Way is here 24/7 for anyone who needs help.

In response to COVID-19, I am so proud of the entire United Way team, including United Way’s PA 2-1-1 Southwest who, in addition to their current role in connecting vulnerable people to resources, is also assisting the Allegheny County Health Department to field the growing number of calls from concerned residents in the wake of COVID-19. Our 2-1-1 resource navigators are prepared to offer general health information and are referring people who need further evaluation to the Allegheny County Health Department. We are also working with county leadership and public safety in our suburban counties to provide similar and county-specific resources. Our 2-1-1 team is taking calls from throughout the region to help people who are struggling to buy food, pay rent or utilities, and meet other basic needs.

If you need immediate assistance, please dial 2-1-1, text your zip code to 898-211, or visit

United Way is also coordinating volunteer responses to serve people in need during social distancing protocols, another key way we bring people together to solve problems.

While the news can be scary, we’re also seeing the very best of humanity. We are respecting each other. We are adhering to expert guidance. And we are doing what we can to help the people in our community who are struggling.

I am truly blessed to be in a position that allows me to help lead the community through these challenging times. I’m confident that we will emerge stronger and more united than ever. Until then, may each of you stay safe and healthy.