United Way of Southwest Alabama: A Journey Through History

Our History

1926 – 1950: Founding and Early Years

  • Joseph Linyer Bedsole, originally from Thomasville, Alabama, moved to Mobile in 1919 and became a pivotal figure in the community. In early 1926, Elizabeth Fonde, Lelia Hall, and Corinne Wilson approached Bedsole, then President of the Mobile Chamber of Commerce, to discuss the necessity of a community-wide fundraising campaign. Inspired by their concern, Bedsole proposed the creation of a Community Chest and subsequently became its inaugural Chairman. Over time, this original Community Chest transformed into what is now known as the United Way of Southwest Alabama.
  • The United Way of Southwest Alabama began with the creation of the Community Chest in Mobile on March 22, 1926.
  • The first campaign for funds was launched on January 24, 1927, and raised a total of $194,881.01 in one week.
  • Between 1927 and 1951, the Community Chest supported 32 different local agencies, including the U.S.O. and War Relief Agencies during World War II.
  •  In 1954, public officials unanimously voted to organize a United Fund that campaigned for both local and national agencies, expanding the reach of the Community Chest of Mobile beyond the boundaries of Mobile County.

1960s: Focused Expansion

  • During the 1960s, the focus of the United Fund/Community Chest’s activities began to center on the health, welfare, and recreation of the children in Mobile County.
  • In 1964, the Mobile District Labor Council AFL-CIO (CLC), which later became known as the Southwest Alabama Labor Council, established an official partnership with the United Fund of Mobile County Inc. This partnership introduced the concept of the “Fair Share” as a cornerstone of the annual fundraising campaign.

1970s: Growth and Development

  • Moved to our current location in 1971.
  • 1971 marked an important event in the UWSWA’s history when the United Fund surpassed the two million dollar mark in its campaign for the first time.
  • The United Fund organization established the Community Leadership Development Program in 1974 in order to continue impacting the children and youth of Mobile County. This was one of the first leadership development programs in the country.
  • Red Leachman Community Service Labor Award established in 1979.

1980s: Wider Community Integration

  • In 1980, Washington County became affiliated with the United Fund and in 1981 the United Fund became the Mobile Area United Way.

1990s: Name Change and New Initiatives

  • With the inclusion of Clarke County in 1990, the organization changed its name to United Way of Southwest Alabama.
  • W.O. Mozningo Labor Award established and presented in 1992.
  • Alexis de Tocqueville Society established with 7 people giving $10,000 gifts in 1992.
  • The Homeless Task Force was created 1993 and operated under the United Way of Southwest Alabama until becoming an independent 501(c) (3) called the the Homeless Coalition of Mobile in 1996. This agency ultimately became the Housing First.
  • The Inaugural Day of Caring was in 1994 and was the largest one-day volunteer event in the region.

2000s: Community Impact Focus

  • In 2010, UWSWA’s Board of Directors approved a new community impact mission that sought to achieve positive and sustained community change. The four Building Blocks for a Better Life were established to help the community at large and continued to be the primary drive of United Way and its partners for the next 15 years.

2010s: Expanding Partnerships and Outreach

  • Austal USA Inaugural Charity Golf Invitational 2011.
  • Launched Attendance Awareness Month in September 2013. United Way with Airbus and Mobile County Public Schools partnered join the nationwide effort to raise awareness about the value of regular school attendance.
  • Choctaw County joins the United Way in 2014.
  • Inaugural Alabama State Building Trades Golf Tournament fundraiser held in tandem with the Alabama State Building Trades Annual Conference.
  • Launched the Airbus Flying Challenge Program in January 2018. The Flying Challenge was a mentoring program focused on character development and STEM activities for children attending Palmer Pillans Middle School. The program presents the opportunity for Airbus employees to provide career exploration, life skills discussions, educational activities, and academic enrichment to middle school students. Program partners included Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center, Airbus Americas Engineering Mobile, the Mobile Area Education Foundation (MAEF), and the Mobile County Public School System (MCPSS).
  • Clarke County Outreach Center opened in Grove Hill, Alabama in April 2019 to provide wrap around services to the citizens of Clarke County in one central location. Funding for the CCOC was provided by an Alabama Power Elevate Grant.

2020s: Recognition and New Programs

  • United Way named New Sponsor of the Year in May 2020 by the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (AmeriCorps NCCC) Southern Region.
  • Launched The Basics Southwest Alabama program in October 2022. The Basics is five, fun, free, simple, and powerful strategies for parents and caregivers to use to give every child a strong start. They aid in brain development and help children develop cognitive skills.
  • Established the Clifton & Genie Inge Circle within the 1926 Society. This honor level, reserved for donors with cumulative contributions ranging from $250,000 to $499,000, pays tribute to the profound impact of the Inges’ generosity and commitment to creating lasting change.