Archived Story

United Way pushes on despite shortfall

Published 7:30am Sunday, December 15, 2013

Column: Live United, by Ann Austin

The United Way fundraising campaign is nearing its close at the end of this month. This past week I sent a press release to our media sources to announce that we project to be significantly down from what we hoped to raise: $696,000. In fact, we will be grateful to raise $600,000.

Ann Austin
Ann Austin

Every year around this time, I struggle with the uncertainty of the campaign. In the past I would experience sleepless nights and anxiety, worrying about whether we would raise enough or if we would fall short. And it seems every year we’ve not been able to raise enough funds to fully support local programs, while every year the requests increase.

This year, my daughter has tempered the anxiety, and sleepless nights have been due to her needs. I’ve been with the United Way long enough to know there will be years where businesses struggle or people face increased costs for their basic needs and will be unable to fully support local programs. The best we can do is reach out to the community and be thankful for the response we get.

I began a book called “Peace of Mind” last week. It’s been on my bookshelf since I was in high school — most likely purchased at a local antique shop — the original copy from 1946 by author Joshua Loth Liebman. The title drew my attention, but the subject matter is relevant for today.

Liebman opens with a “Word to the Reader,” stating: “It may seem strange for a man to write a book about peace of mind in this age of fierce turmoil and harrowing doubts. It may seem doubly strange for a rabbi, a representative of a people that has known so little peace, to engage in such an enterprise.

“However, I make no apologies for this attempt to find new answers to the basic problems of human nature; its needs, motives, fears and dreams. I have written this book in the conviction that social peace can never be permanently achieved so long as individuals engage in civil war with themselves.”

Our world is similar to the world Liebman was reflecting on — coming out of World War II and the Great Depression. We are contemplating a new world, after a series of extended wars and economic uncertainty. We do not face the terrible challenges the people of that time faced, but we are living in a world that is much different than the one we knew back in 2000.

The way we have operated in domestic affairs is much the same as how we have operated internationally. We have become engaged in competition rather than collaboration; it is a civil war of resources. It is easy to become pitted against each other when we focus on financial resources alone, and how those resources are becoming more scarce, especially in smaller communities. We lose the peace of mind that comes from recognizing how abundant our communities really are with positive leadership and opportunities to engage in meaningful efforts.

Though we are projecting a decline in future funding sources, we recognize there are resources we have not yet made use of and are working to refocus efforts to identify and work toward the greatest impact.

This involves changing our application process and how we make decisions. Rather than assessing programs based on their individual merits, we are looking at ways we can engage them in joint efforts to address the greatest issues our community faces today and into the future. And we are looking for input from the larger community.

How can we effectively measure the success of local efforts? How can we reach more people before they get to a desperate point in their lives? How do we move forward as a united force for the greater good?

The United Way was founded on the combined vision of a local woman, a rabbi, a priest and two pastors in Denver back in 1887. They decided to cooperate to better serve the needs of their residents. This concept has not changed; in fact, I believe it is our greatest call to duty in the communities that we serve.

We have made a commitment to create better conditions for Freeborn County residents. Even though we will likely be operating with less financial resources into the future, we will continue with our efforts to make a significant difference in the lives of our neighbors.

If you are interested in learning more about our efforts, please follow updates on our web site in the coming year: We have much to look forward to!

Live united!


Albert Lea resident Ann Austin is the director of the United Way of Freeborn County.