In 1935, the predecessor to United Way of the Black Hills, the Community Chest, began in Rapid City.
Numerous business owners started Community Chest out of concern of the growing number of requests for donations.
During World War II, Rapid City, with a population of 21,000 people, was much different than it is today. There was one high school, one junior high, and a city auditorium. Downtown Rapid City was the only place to shop, the mall was a vast field, and Baken Park was a gas station with flourishing tourist cabins.
Businesses were growing, and Rapid City was experiencing the fastest, steadiest growth in the state. But with that growth came problems. People were in critical need of housing; children were in need of supervision; and soldiers were in need of emotional support.
On Nov. 20, 1944, a joint committee of the Senior and Junior Chambers of Commerce of Rapid City met to discuss the growing concern over donations and to foster plans for the organization of a Community Chest. Business owners wanted to create a community fund which could help many worthy local agencies. They wanted a respected group of community-minded citizens to analyze problems in the area, decide which agencies could best meet the growing needs of the population, then distribute their donations where they would do the most good. Members of that joint committee wanted the convenience of one-stop giving, knowing that one gift could help many, and in turn saving the business owner time from answering multiple requests for money.
On March 12, 1945, this idea was put into practice, and papers were signed to begin the Community Chest of Rapid City, which was headed by R.W. Hitchcock, publisher of the Rapid City Journal. The first fund drive was held during that year, and $45,000 was subsequently distributed to Boy Scouts, Cactus Patch, Girl Scouts, Salvation Army, War Relief Fund, and YWCA.
On June 9, 1972, a disastrous flood devastated Rapid City. Homes and businesses were destroyed, and many lives were lost.
History tells us that following disaster, more money and assistance of all types are needed. Rapid City was not immune to the tremendous requests for help. United Way and its agencies played a major role in helping to rebuild the city, and console grieving families. Rebuilding was swift and the results were amazing in the redevelopment of Rapid City. Schools were being built, businesses were once again thriving, and the future of Rapid City was encouraging. A state-of-the-art civic center was built and became the center of many new activities not only for Rapid City but the entire Black Hills.
As the needs of the community and Black Hills changed, so has United Way. In 1998, Sturgis joined as a branch on the United Way and on June 5, 2003, United Way of Rapid City changed its named to United Way of the Black Hills. Also, in 2003, the Northern Hills Area United Way, which encompasses the communities of Lead, Deadwood, Spearfish, and Belle Fourche, was formed. In 2009, the Southern Hills joined the United Way of the Black Hills family including the communities of Keystone, Hill City, Custer, Hot Springs, and Edgemont.
United Way of the Black Hills is a way to keep our communities strong. It's neighbor helping neighbor. Through United Way, the Black Hills community is able to raise thousands of dollars each year. There is no better way to help so many agencies and individuals as conveniently and effectively as through United Way.
Today, United Way of the Black Hills continues to help those in need. Today, money raised from United Way's annual fundraising campaign helps to fund the budgets of 51 agencies.