United Way Kicks Off Campaign

Sep 7, 2016

United Way of Reno County kicked off its 2016-2017 fundraising campaign on Thursday with a goal close to what the agency collected last year.

Running through Nov. 18 under the theme “Great things happen when we Live United,” the campaign hopes to raise $1.446 million to support 26 agencies, as well as several “collective community efforts” to address persistent local social problems.

The agency backed off the $1.5 million goal it had – and fell short of – the past two years.

The decision to lower the goal, however, said Executive Director Tona Turner, was because fewer agencies requested funding this year.

“We had a little bit of relief at the table this year,” Turner said. “We didn’t have quite the number of agencies that came.”

For example, she said, the Emergency Energy Fund, which aided local residents in paying heating bills, merged with the Salvation Army.

“We’re still giving money for that safety net need, but those boards came together and decided it was not necessary to have two separate boards. That’s a good efficiency, though they’ll distribute overall the same amount of money.”

The Hutchinson High daycare program did not apply for United Way funding as USD 308, recognizing a declining number of teen parents using its facility, explores different options going forward, Turner said.

The Reno County Cancer Council and Reno County Food Bank had such successful fund drives the past two years that they did not seek money this year.

“The Food Bank still has need for non-perishable drives, but they seem to be in decent shape financially for buying perishable items, which is what they used our resources for,” Turner said.

Finally, Turner said, First Call for Help did not put in an application for funding this year, though the agency didn’t indicate why.

Though there were fewer agency requests, several “collective community impact programs” are taking off, in part with growing United Way help.

“This is the new work United Way is getting engulfed in,” Turner said. “We’ve been involved the past five years, but now this stuff is really picking up steam.”

It is a different way of collaborating with the community than an agency seeking funding to support its work.

“It’s going after some of the stubborn, engrained issues that one sector is not able to address,” she said. “It’s multiple groups or agencies coming together where they align goals, align strategies, align vision and resources and go after it together.”

One example was the large number of children coming into kindergarten not ready for school.

“Five years ago, the average was 52 percent arrived not ready for school,” Turner said. “By partnering differently through the schools, including working with area-wide superintendents, kindergarten teachers, bringing in professionals from the non-profit sector Early Childhood Coalition, we started working together and developed three key strategies.”

Doing so, Turner said, “They’ve been able to move from 48 percent ready just five years ago to 81 percent tested ready this last fall. Collectively they’re having a bigger impact on an issue that one organization can’t seem to solve by itself.”

The Avenue A Neighborhood Center is another example.

“It’s one of our most disenfranchised neighborhoods in Reno County,” she said. “Per household it’s one of the lowest are of economic income in Reno County. This particular neighborhood has the highest achievement gap of all our schools; its health disparities are stark.”

“There’s been a really cooperative, collaborative effort, of the school, several non-profits,” Turner said. “Even the city has stepped up in a big way, with the Hutchinson Recreation Commission and the Reno County Health Department all coming together. They’re not just coming in and saying fix this, it’s really about propping up the leadership within that neighborhood, re-engaging and revitalizing the leadership there.”

This year’s campaign chairperson is Russ Reinert, a former CPA and bank officer, who also led last year’s effort.

“Russ is the first person in our history to volunteer for this position twice,” Turner said. “He assisted in the allocations process this past year and has had opportunity to become even more involved in the great work that United Way and its network of partner organizations accomplish.”

About 200 volunteers are now working throughout the community to drop off workplace campaign packets and schedule United Way presentations.

“Most people cite that they did not give to a charitable organization mainly because they did not know where the money went and they were never asked,” Turner said.

Therefore, the agency is asking local businesses to sign up to allow a brief presentation to employees, “so that everyone can learn more about how a gift impacts so much throughout the community.”

To schedule a presentation, call the United Way at 669-9329