The History of UCS

Since 1967, UCS has incubated programs to meet identified community needs, bringing the community together to promote economic stability by furthering health and human services initiatives. Often UCS's work has a "ripple effect" inspiring new opportunities for improving the lives of Johnson County residents through education and advocacy, collaborative planning, and targeted resource allocation.


In 2021, Lenexa and Shawnee responded to the need by instituting new ordinances, with proactive coordination with UCS and other CoC partners, to ensure their jurisdictions can be a part of efforts and effective responses for those who may experience homelessness in our community. Additionally, UCS, Johnson County Government, United Way of Greater Kansas City, and community agencies worked with the Kansas Housing Resource Center to connect federal funding supporting rent, utility, and mortgage assistance with those in need within Johnson County.


UCS launched the Racial Equity in Communities (REIC) pilot in April 2021 thanks to funding support from Health Forward Foundation, The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, and investments from participating jurisdictions. REIC provides education, planning services, and other supports to Johnson County jurisdictions that want to undertake racial equity initiatives in their organization and communities. Representatives from five jurisdictions participated in a series of six facilitated sessions (three sessions occurred in 2021, and three in 2022) as a “community of practice” and received individualized technical assistance.


In 2021, local jurisdictions and UCS published the Johnson County Municipalities Housing Study and Housing Toolkit, developed with input from the Housing For All Task Force. The Housing for All Task Force was made possible with public funding and private grant support, which included Health Forward Foundation, local jurisdictions, and Evergy.


UCS concluded a four-year grant from the Kansas Health Foundation (KHF) that was part of the Foundation’s Healthy Communities Initiative (HCI). The broad goal of the HCI was to support leadership teams in cities, towns, counties, or regions in Kansas to engage in advocacy efforts to improve the health of people in Kansas. Ultimately, the KHF grant was the catalyst for the Johnson County Health Equity Network, the Johnson County Community Housing Study, the Housing for All Toolkit, and UCS’ Racial Equity and Inclusion work.


UCS worked with county and partners to coordinate a COVID-19 response to meet shifting and increased needs of Johnson County’s homeless population. This includes:

  • Additional shelter options, as the need for social distancing and isolation space reduces the shelter space available.
  • Development of standards and processes for safe parking spaces for those who shelter in their cars, and/or those who do not want to stay in a shelter.
  • UCS is represents Johnson County on the Advisory Board for the Kansas City Regional COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund.
  • Drawing on learning and collaboration with Johnson County partners, UCS created and manages a COVID-19 landing page on our website to provide updated information and resources to community partners on COVID-19-related issues.
  • UCS prioritized COVID-19 research and data analysis on the impact on vulnerable populations to help educate cities, county, public, funders, and agencies identify existing gaps and areas of need.


UCS’ core work on education and advocacy includes conducting the annual Kansas Public Policy Forum, a component of the planning partnership with United Way of Greater Kansas City.



UCS manages the Federal Emergency Food and Shelter Program grant process for Johnson County.


UCS provides regional data support to United Way of Greater Kansas City, including trend data on more than 70 indicators for six counties.


Through multi-year funding from the Kansas Health Foundation, UCS began working with Johnson County Department of Health and Environment on a Johnson County Health Equity Project to build a network of health equity advocates in Johnson County, and mitigate health inequity and improve health outcomes through collaborative solutions. Today, The Johnson County Health Equity Network has identified safe, stable, attainable housing as a priority health issue for Johnson County and leads the Johnson County Housing Study and Task Force. Today, UCS has launched the Racial Equity and Inclusion (REI) Committee to lead the formation of a race equity culture at UCS and integrate principles and practices of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging into UCS’ core work. The intended impact of the REI work at UCS is that the Johnson County community will understand history and impacts of systemic racism and prioritize initiatives that promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.





Transitional-age youth (age 18-24) emerged as a priority population from the poverty work and published From Foster Care to Independence: An Assessment of Best Practices to Support Youth Who Age Out of Foster Care. Today, UCS convenes the Transitional-Age Youth Planning Project which brings together community partners coordinate best practices, protocols, and evaluation measures to ensure responsive and adequate delivery of services and supports for youth transitioning out of foster care, juvenile justice or facing other barriers. In 2019, UCS partnered with Kansas Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the foster care services provider KVC to implement the Aged- Out Intensive Home-Based Services Pilot as part of the Transitional-Age Youth Planning Project, designed to provide a path for youth in Johnson County who have aged out of foster care to re-engage with supportive services and case management for a cumulative period of six months. As a result DCF now requires that foster care contractors provide at least 6 months of wraparound supports to youth who age out of the system. In 2019, at the recommendation of the TAY Planning Project Leadership Team, Johnson County Community College (JCCC) and Olathe Public Schools (OPS) completed the first stage of the Bridge to Success pilot project designed to help students successfully bridge the gap between high school graduation and college.


UCS published the Framework for Reducing Poverty and Creating Opportunity which identified three action areas: work, education, and the safety net. In 2016, UCS continued this work with the Employment Planning Project which resulted in the report A Plan to Increase Income through Employment in Johnson County that identifies opportunities to improve employment and career pathways for low-income households. UCS collaborated with Dr. Angela Gist-Mackey at the University of Kansas to engage low-income workers and job seekers which provided additional insights to the Employment Planning project that were eventually published in the Journal of Applied Communication Research.


UCS convened and facilitated the Trauma-Informed Care Task Force, a group of organizations from multiple sectors committed to leading the implementation of trauma-informed care in Johnson County. Today, the Task Force continues its work as a committee of COMVAC, and UCS continues to support and conduct training.


UCS facilitated the Mental Health and Criminal Justice Intercept Project which brought together 11 organizations to consider ways to improve Johnson County’s response to people with mental health needs who came in contact with the criminal justice system. One of the group’s recommendations included a partnership between local law enforcement and the Johnson County Mental Health Center –giving way to the first Johnson County Mental Health Co-Responder Program in Olathe in 2011. In 2013, Overland Park started their program, followed by Lenexa and Shawnee in 2016. In 2017, Leawood, Prairie Village, Merriam, Mission, Mission Hills, Mission Woods, Roeland Park, Fairway, Westwood and Westwood Hills teamed up to share the services of a mental health co-responder. Plus, Johnson County Med-Act also added a community outreach clinician to assist on emergency medical calls.


UCS launched Navigating the Future, a community action plan to improve the quality of life in Johnson County by enhancing health and human services. The first report published in 2003 represented input from more than 200 people and provided 12 action strategies that were championed by different community organizations. In 2007, Navigating the Future, Setting the Course 2007-2011 was published. In 2017, UCS again hosted a Navigating the Future event, bringing together more than 200 people representing key sectors – including local nonprofit organizations, city and county governments, foundations, public safety, school districts, businesses and faith communities to identify and discuss priority needs in Johnson County. Participants identified public transportation, mental health services, living wage jobs, affordable childcare and housing, and access to healthcare as top priorities for the County. Today, UCS brings the community together each year for the Human Service Summit to develop strategies for improving the quality of life in Johnson County.



UCS served as project manager for Safe from the Start, a collaboration established to find better ways to respond to child maltreatment and domestic violence when they occur simultaneously. In 2004, Guidelines on the Co-Occurrence of Domestic Violence and Child Maltreatment was published and community partners implemented recommendations to improve safety for victims of family violence. Today, the Community Violence Action Council (COMVAC) continues this work and the 10th Judicial District Court now includes a Family Court.


UCS played a lead role in the formation of the Johnson County Continuum of Care on Homelessness, and wrote its first federal grant application for homelessness funding. In 2002, UCS became the lead agency of the Continuum, which today includes 50 service providers. Today, the grant award for federal homelessness funding supports the work of local agencies in transitional housing, rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing projects.



UCS led advocacy efforts for the adoption of a refundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in Kansas. Today, the EITC is one of the most effective anti-poverty policies benefiting working families.


UCS facilitated the planning process that developed the Johnson County Juvenile Justice Comprehensive Strategic Plan. The State of Kansas had passed statewide reform of the juvenile justice system, moving more responsibilities from the state to local judicial districts which were required to conduct a planning process that addressed the reform, including services and sanctions to prevent juvenile crime and hold offenders accountable. In 2003 and in 2010, UCS facilitated a review and update of the Comprehensive Plan. Today, many of the strategies identified as priorities are part of Johnson County’s system – from the Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center serving both a booking function and a resource for families, to countywide Youth Court. In 2018, UCS was the local facilitator for Johnson County Department of Corrections’ Disproportionate Minority Contact Title II Grant. This is an effort to implement a plan of action to address disproportionate minority contact in the juvenile justice system.


UCS conducted the first research to quantify homelessness in Johnson County. This landmark study led to the creation of this community’s first homeless shelter, the Salvation Army Family Lodge. Today, the Family Lodge annually serves nearly 200 Johnson County residents.


UCS conducted the first study of the needs of uninsured residents, and with a committee developed action recommendations. This led to the creation of the Health Partnership Clinic in 1992. Today, the Health Partnership Clinic operates four clinics and provides primary medical care, dental care, and behavioral health care annually to over 15,000 low-income, uninsured adults, and children.


UCS was commissioned by the County to evaluate the need for residential substance abuse treatment services for adolescents. This effort led to the establishment of the Johnson County Mental Health Center’s Adolescent Center for Treatment (ACT). Today, ACT is the state of Kansas’ only residential program for adolescents with substance use disorders and next year will serve approximately 300 youth.


UCS established a partnership with the County government to allocate $30,000 to nonprofit organizations that provide health and human service safety net programs. UCS sought the support of cities to expand this partnership, and in 1990, the Human Service Fund was created with 14 cities and the County pooling funds that totaled nearly $88,000. Today, 15 cities and the County provide more than $370,000 for the Human Service Fund.


With the assistance of board member Elaine Tatham, UCS published its first Johnson County Fact Book/Planning Guide and, in 1984, published An Environmental Scan: What Lies Ahead for Johnson County, both milestones for UCS’ role in community research and data analysis. Today, UCS collects and analyzes a wide range of human service indicators used to identify community needs and trends, influence human service policy, guide funding and inform practices across the County and region. (View Fact Sheets)


UCS published Who’s Minding the Children, which identified the growing need for professional childcare services. One outcome was the creation of the School-Age Child Care Advisory Council in 1984, which initiated after-school programming in public schools. Today, Johnson County Parks and Recreation and the YMCA provide thousands of Johnson County children with before and after school care.


UCS sponsored the Johnson County Coalition to Prevent Child Abuse, which brought public attention to child abuse and offered the first countywide child abuse prevention education program implemented in schools. That Coalition evolved into Sunflower House – Kansas’ first child advocacy center – which today serves approximately 25,000 children in Johnson County.


To respond to the Older Americans Act, UCS obtained a state grant to establish a multi-county area agency on aging (the Mid-America Council on Aging). In 1978, UCS advocated for Johnson County’s separation from the multi-county council, resulting in the creation of Johnson County Area Agency on Aging. Today, the County’s Area Agency on Aging is part of the Human Services Department and serves approximately 12,000 individuals annually. UCS continues to track and present on data around aging in Johnson County.


The organization’s name was changed to United Community Services of Johnson County, reflecting its affiliation with United Way. Originally there were two arms of United Way - campaign, and planning and allocation. UCS was a division of Metropolitan UCS, the planning and allocation arm. With United Way consolidation in the 1980s, UCS became a separate entity, and provided the planning and allocation functions for United Way in Johnson County. Today, the vital partnership continues between UCS and United Way of Greater Kansas City.


UCS organized the Alcoholism Planning Council in response to concern for “public inebriates” and lack of alcohol abuse service coordination. In 1974 the Drug Abuse Council was established to focus on drug abuse education and offered assistance to schools in developing programs. In 1982, the two councils merged to form the Drug and Alcoholism Council of Johnson County (DAC), and to serve as an advisor to local governments on the allocation of local tax funds. Today, the DAC recommends allocation of nearly $2 million in local alcohol tax funds for 25 programs. Last year, funded programs served an estimated 71,000 Johnson County residents.


UCS initiated the first drug abuse prevention programming and advocated for the creation of the first local detoxification program. Today, the Johnson County Mental Health Center’s Adult Detoxification Unit serves nearly 1,000 individuals annually.


Identification of recreational needs and proposed actions led to the development of the Johnson County Parks and Recreation District, today a valuable community asset with over 7 million visits annually.


UCS was established as the Johnson County Health, Welfare and Recreation Council, an entity with a broad mission. Today, the core work of UCS is illuminating needs and solutions through Education & Advocacy, fostering a framework for collaboration through Mobilizing & Planning, and prioritizing community investments through Targeted Resource Allocation.