United Way drive is behind its target

Published 9:23 am Monday, December 15, 2008

With only a few weeks to go until the end of the 2008 Live United campaign, the United Way of Freeborn County is down about $25,000 from where it was last year at this time in its campaign goal.

In September, the nonprofit organization kicked off its campaign, with a goal of reaching $592,000, an amount that was $30,000 more than in 2007.

So far, about $456,000 — or 77 percent — has been raised.

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Ann Austin, executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County, said she can’t know until the end of the campaign if the total raised is going to be lower than last year or if the organization is going to get more this year. Several business donations have gone down because they’ve had to lay off some of their employees, she said.

“If we an get 85 or 90 percent that will be great for this year,” Austin said. “Realistically we’re not planning for 100 percent, but we haven’t given up hope.”

United Way dollars in Freeborn County go to support agencies including the Albert Lea Salvation Army, the American Red Cross, Catholic Charities, Girl and Boy Scouts, Freeborn County Crime Victims Crisis Center, the Albert Lea Family Y, Cedar Valley Services, Senior Resources, Freeborn County Chemical Dependency Center, the Domestic Abuse Project, Prevent Child Abuse, Lutheran Social Services, Adult Basic Education, Semcac, Parenting Resource Center, Arc of Freeborn County and The Children’s Center.

When she and this year’s co-chairwomen Sue Berg and her daughter Tiffany Hagen have gone around delivering presentations about the United Way, they’ve heard time and time again about how the United Way has affected people’s lives, Austin said.

“It’s people helping people, that’s what it’s all about,” Berg said. “We never know when one of us is going to be in a situation where we need help. If we can give now while we can, that’s the best thing.”

Though money is important to help these agencies, people also can do things to help people throughout the community, she said. Businesses can donate supplies or people can help a neighbor.

“The people in our community really shape their environments,” Austin said. “It’s up to us to identify our own talents and then find a way to use them. If we’re not doing that, we’re not doing a just service to ourselves and to other people.”

She said people can be aware of what they’re getting rid of and considering whether someone else can use it.

Or, Berg said, people can pick an agency or program to be involved in or to learn more about and then advocate for that program.

That’s one of the main ways these programs will stay around — if people value them, Austin said. People need to understand what they do for the community.

She said it’s been an interesting year because there’s been so much negativity because of the economy and a fear about whether the organization would be able to raise enough money.

“It’s a scary year for everybody with the economy, but I think it will end up being positive because it helps us figure out what our values are,” Austin said.

People came out by the hundreds to donate to the recent “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” home for the DeVries family, and if all of those people could just put their volunteer efforts into something else in the community. There’s lots of opportunities, Berg said.

Austin said the organization plans to keep the theme of Live United for next year’s campaign as well.

“It’s what will continue to make our community a great place,” she said. “If we’re able to identify what makes us a great place and be proud of what we do here.”

The women said there’s been a lot of positive discussion about the theme.