United Way kicks off its fall campaignPublished 6:40pm Saturday, September 15, 2012
Column: Ann Austin, Live United
Another campaign season has begun for the United Way of Freeborn County. Our official kickoff was Sept. 5. We learned about early childhood efforts through the work of Healthy Families, The Children’s Center and the new Dolly Parton Imagination Library program, which will launch in 2013 and take the place of the book program we’ve run for years.
What has amazed me is the giving has been continuous this year. People have been inspired to give back to our community, however they can. We have had several visits and conversations with people who believe in the programs that United Way supports. And there are people who have made a long-term commitment to our organization — whose calls we can expect every year.
We thank you all. We know that most of the time you aren’t able to see the lives you are touching every day with your efforts, but you are making a difference.
In 2013, we are planning to support 29 programs in the community — there have been many changes in the past couple of years. Several programs have closed and others have downsized, some programs have been shifted to other areas and there continue to be new and unique challenges.
It is encouraging how apparent it is that most groups are a team in community-wide efforts.
I have been impressed with the efforts of Freeborn County government to maintain services that are not required by the state but definitely meet a community need.
I have been impressed with Albert Lea city leadership considering all possible solutions and keeping in mind what is best for the community.
I have been impressed with innovative ideas for collaboration coming out of Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea.
And I have been impressed with all of the people who are stepping up to help solve problems that seem so daunting at times.
We are at the point where we are ready to go deeper and take a look at how to prevent issues from happening in the first place. You may have recently read about the AmeriCorps VISTA position we were able to secure through a grant. VISTA stands for “volunteers in service to America.”
Maria Gaytan is our new community facilitator. This is an amazing partnership with the Minnesota Workforce Development, Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce, Adult Basic Education and a variety of businesses in the community. We want to look deeper at the issue of employment and employability and figure out how to remove barriers that still exist.
Another effort is the Imagination Library. This program will replace our annual children’s book. The children’s book has been a wonderful adventure, and there have been many masterpieces created over the years with the final book, “Chuck the Duck Meets New Friends,” slated for the spring of 2013. But we have realized we are not reaching children when they most need to have books of their own — birth to 5 years.
The goal of this program is to ensure that children have the foundation they need to be ready for school. It will be funded by our traditional grantors, as well as foundation funds and donations from community members. We are partnering with Freeborn County Healthy Families, Early Childhood Family Education and various other early childhood organizations to ensure that children who are most in need will have access to the program.
We may be more visible in the fall, but our staff of two and many volunteers work year-round to figure out how we can make a greater impact with the resources we have. We appreciate your support, however you choose to be involved. Many of you are part of workplace campaigns, attend fundraisers, respond to our mailers and are active throughout the campaign season.
Everything counts toward our work. We are open to hearing any ideas you have. Some individuals have chosen to encourage contributions to United Way in lieu of Christmas presents, others ask people to give gifts to charities for their wedding. We accept gifts year-round and ensure funds go to the greatest need. Thank you for helping continue the good work in the community. Thank you for living united!
Ann Austin is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.