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Community: Awakenthe giant

United Way

You know the United Way. They’re that organization that does, well, you know ... helpful, charitable stuff. The one that does, uh, good things in the community. That one group that helps people ... somehow.

If that’s your impression of the United Way, Vanessa Maniago forgives you. She’s the vice president of branding and marketing for the United Way of Southern Nevada.

“Many people told us, ‘I know you do good things, you have great brand awareness, but at the end of the day, what do you do in Las Vegas? I don’t know,’” she says. “That was part of the charge — re-educating people on what we do, but in a fresh way.”

Perhaps you’ve seen the results as part of the Southern Nevada branch’s campaign launched in August — on billboards, in magazines and even movie theaters: bold colors, smiling faces and crisp logos trumpeting the United Way’s triad of impact areas: health, education and financial stability — everything from immunizations to financial literacy to improving high school graduation rates. (Don’t be fooled by the campaign’s slickness; while Maniago boasts a Madison Avenue pedigree, she does shoestring magic: The faces are from a stock image site, the copy crafted in-house).

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This rebranding is more than logo deep. It represents a reinvigorated presence by the United Way of Southern Nevada (, which chose to lay relatively low after the economic crisis. It also marks a pivot in their approach to focus more on direct impact than tapping wallets for other nonprofits, treating the public as prospective investors in the commonweal. (Perhaps fittingly, their new building on west Flamingo Road once housed a bank that foundered after the crash.) Recent initiatives include Family Resource Engagement Centers — that is, a place for at-risk students and parents to huddle at school and take advantage of programs to help them graduate; pre-school scholarships to help toddlers get a head start; even dental health programs that encourage kids to brush, floss and avoid sweets — a big deal when a toothache can completely wreck a day at school.

“In the past five years, we’ve been respectful, knowing that everyone was hurting,” says CEO Cass Palmer in explaining the quiet period. “Now, we are out there talking about our work, driving additional dollars, and ultimately directly impacting the Southern Nevada community with those dollars.” They’re hoping to augment their annual $13 million budget (about 80 percent of which is funded by about 30,000 donors who largely give through payroll deductions) with a push to increase their leadership donors — those giving $1,000 or more — to pre-crash levels. In other words, now that the worst is over, it’s time to work on strengthening the United Way’s financial foundation.

[HEAR MORE: Learn tips on how to cope with child-care costs on "KNPR's State of Nevada."]

“Vegas is great at reacting to immediate needs — we’re a very giving, responsive community that way. But we need to build a long-term plan to fix our more systemic social ills,” says Palmer.

The rebranding campaign focused on results should help. “In this economy, people want to see a return on their investment, whether they’re giving $5 or $5,000,” says Maniago. It’s an advertising message she doesn’t mind spreading. “I am lucky to do what I do. I’d rather drive behavior change than sell a Slim Jim.” — Andrew Kiraly



The Smithsonian may always rule as the nation’s attic, but for artifacts peculiar to Southern Nevada, no other assemblage equals the collections on daily display at the Clark County Museum. “If I can get you here once,” says Museum Administrator Mark Hall-Patton, “You’ll come back.”

The Clark County Museum? Indeed, with all the buzz about arts and culture downtown Las Vegas, it might be easy to forget about the Henderson museum, established in 1979 on an erstwhile gravel plant on Boulder Highway. Hall-Patton is on a sort of unofficial awareness campaign lately, leveraging his regular appearances on “Pawn Stars,” “American Restoration,” and “Mysteries at the Museum” to encourage more locals to visit the museum. The museum trades largely on its status as heir to the collections of early Las Vegas entrepreneur Anna Roberts Parks. Parks, perhaps best known for founding Palm Mortuary, was a lifelong collector of local artifacts, rocks, shells, Native American arts and crafts, and “even a stuffed penguin,” Hall-Patton says. “Her tastes were eclectic.”

Today, the main exhibit hall at the museum, named for Parks, features exhibits about Southern Nevada from prehistoric to modern times. Also on the 30-acre site are 20 restored historic buildings, including a newspaper print shop, the 1932 Boulder City Depot and the Candlelight Wedding Chapel. (1830 S. Boulder Highway, 455-7955) — Megan Edwards

Heritage Street


No time is better for a visit to the Clark County Museum than Dec. 7 and 8. Its “Heritage Street” will sparkle with historically accurate holiday lights and decorations — to tunes by madrigal singers from Green Valley High School. Admission (and hot chocolate) is free.

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KNPR's State of Nevada
KNPR's State of Nevada
KNPR's State of Nevada