Salt Lake City continues to be relatively stingy when it comes to United Way donations, giving only a third the amount raised in cities of the same size.

That was the bad news part of the 2001 "Report to the Community" delivered this past week by United Way staff and board members. The good news is that the United Way of the Great Salt Lake Area raised $8.1 million in its most recent fund-raising campaign, up 7.6 percent from last year.

Cliff Uckerman is another part of the good news. Uckerman, 19, has been featured on local United Way billboards during the past year. "Dealer or Dean's List?" asks the ubiquitous billboards, which have made Uckerman's face as well known locally as those people with milk mustaches. He was honored as a "success story" at Wednesday's United Way breakfast.

Once in fact a drug dealer, and arrested on aggravated assault charges, Uckerman decided to turn his life around after his father was murdered in a drug-related incident. "I didn't want to end up dead. And I didn't want to end up in prison," said Uckerman, whose brother and sister are both currently serving time.

He credits the Salt Lake Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) Youth Works program with providing him an alternative to drugs and crime. He graduated from the program in January 2000, completed his GED a year later, is now an assistant construction site supervisor at NHS, has a second job as a cashier at a restaurant, and attends Salt Lake Community College, majoring in criminal justice.

"Dead-end or Diploma?" is the question asked on Teena's billboard. Teena, who prefers not giving her last name, was pregnant at 14 and a single mom at 15. She has watched her dad go to jail, and many of the young women in her family become young mothers without finishing high school. She credits the Sugar House Boys & Girls Club with providing positive support and "a place to belong" so she could finish school. She will enter Salt Lake Community College this spring, works at the Boys & Girls Club, and believes, she says, that she's "in control now."

Uckerman, Teena and other United Way success stories show "the power of prevention," said Bruce T. Reese, chairman of the board of directors of the United Way of the Great Salt Lake Area.

Reese noted that the average amount of money raised in cities of comparable size last year was $23 million. "If denial is the reason we don't contribute," he said of Salt Lakers, we need to understand that the area is not immune to big-city problems such as homelessness, substance abuse, violence and despair.

Also honored at the breakfast were Victoria M. Mori, who received the Architect of Change Award, for her work as executive director of Neighborhood House, and Raymond J. Etcheverry, who received the Community Vision Award for his work as co-chairman of United Way's administrative finance committee.


E-mail: jarvik@desnews.com