For the last 50 years, one agency has been there when it really counted.


In fact, last year alone saw the Desert Communities United Way help more than half of the Victor Valley's population - approximately 247,000 people in need - according to DCUW Program Director Tracey Lowther, the featured speaker of last Friday morning's Coffee Club gathering at Hesperia Christian School. And that gets her pumped up.


"I'm passionate about United Way. The United Way is real people helping real people."


As area manufacturing plants close their doors and a recession forces average families to cut expenses the needs will continue to rise. Thankfully, a number of programs and services are there for people truly in need, she said.


"We're all struggling," she said.


Local programs funded by DCUW fall into several categories: disaster/emergency food and shelter, children at risk/youth services, health and dental services, senior/disabled services, domestic violence/sexual assault programs, substance abuse/counseling/legal services.


Lowther asked attendees to join her on an imaginary journey back in time to 1887, when a Denver priest and others recognized the need for a cooperative action to address their city's social welfare problems. The next year the Mile-High City raised more than $20,000 for the program.


"Fasten your seatbelts," she said. "The G-Force is really strong."


In 1913, a Community Chest program was born in Cleveland, Ohio, which helped refine a campaign for allocating funds. The name United Way became formalized in the 1950s.


Locally, the DCUW was formed in 1958 when the Victor Valley had a population of about 35,000 residents.


"There was a little store here, a little store there," she said. "But there were all sorts of social welfare issues."


Because each of the country's more than 1,300 United Way agencies are independent, it allows the local agency, which is guided by a volunteer board of directors, to decide which programs to fund.


"We can dedide what programs to fund. We don't do anything without board approval."


Donations to DCUW help unite the Victor Valley as do others through every United Way agency across America.


"United Way is a unifying force in nearly every community today," Lowther said.