Guest Column: All are needed to create a stronger community

Published 11:47 pm Friday, September 28, 2018

Live United by Ann Austin

Ann Austin


The 2018 campaign for United Way of Freeborn County is underway! Though we encourage and accept gifts throughout the year — the fall continues to be our busiest time. It is the season of giving!

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We are so thankful for the strong local programming that supports our neighbors. Our United Way partners with local programs to not only sustain vital services, but address deep-rooted problems that impact the success of these programs.

Our 2018 campaign need was set at approximately $530,000 to fully support 22 programs in 2019. We call it a “need” rather than a “goal” because it’s based on actual requests for funding from programs that are made in the spring. We include operating costs and $30,000 to $40,000 that we budget for uncollectible pledges, which occur when people move away or change jobs.

Because we’ve had some challenges with the campaign over the past couple of years, we have lowered our operating costs and are sharing staff to direct more funds to local programs. Sustainability is something we take seriously — because many of the programs we support are directly related to the sustainability of our community.

For example, our most recent focus on addressing child care barriers directly relates to the sustainability of The Children’s Center, which is one of our largest grant recipients. Their programming helps sustain our local workforce, which feeds into the success of businesses in the area. It is essential we find a way to ensure sustainability of these programs, or they will not continue.

The full list of programs we will support in 2019, upon completion of a successful campaign, is as follows:

Adult Learning Center (1): child care program; Albert Lea Family Y (2): youth scholarships/out of school and collaboration; Cedar Valley Services (1): job coaching/transportation; Freeborn County Public Health (1): Healthy Families; Parenting Resource Center (3): Partnering with Parents, crisis nursery and the Seibel Center; Semcac (3): senior nutrition, rural meal outreach and homeless shelter; Senior Resources (4): family caregivers, chore services, senior advocacy and ride services; The Arc of Freeborn County (1): direct services; The Children’s Center (1): child care sliding fee; The Salvation Army (3): meal site, emergency services and food pantry.

Our United Way also serves as the fiscal host for the local Imagination Library program as well as a basic needs fund, which is used for local disaster response.

There is a lot going on in our community and our world right now. Many conditions are out of our control, so we must adapt.

One way our United Way has adapted on a local level is through focusing more efforts to create online donation options. We now have a form you can fill out and submit through our web site by visiting:

If your workplace no longer runs an internal campaign, you can still give! We need you to support local programs. The biggest threat to the sustainability of local programs is how there are so many ways to give to so many other programs. It’s great to have options! However, we often don’t know the impact of local programs until they are gone. Just like we don’t know how much we appreciate local stores or businesses until they are gone.

Our community has been shocked by the recent closure of businesses that have been around for decades. In many ways, we took them for granted. The same happens with nonprofits.

We will not exist without your support. Through the month of October, we will be doing outreach through social media — please like and share our posts with as many people as you can. We did a local video this year, which appears on our home page and features people who have benefited from local programs — please watch and share this with your friends and family.

We need you. We need you to commit to creating a stronger community however you can. Even if you can’t give financially, you can give of your time through volunteering. (Sign up here:

Many nonprofit programs are in need of volunteers: Senior Resources needs volunteer drivers to bring area seniors to appointments; The Salvation Army can always use volunteers for seasonal events and their food pantry; and our local Humane Society needs regular volunteers to care for the animals.

There are so many ways to give back — giving $5 makes a difference. Volunteering once a month makes a difference.

You make a difference by advocating for all of these programs — sharing your story, and showing you care.

Thank you for the role you play, whether it’s through giving, advocating or volunteering!

Ann Austin is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.