Guest Column: Celebrate the community at Dine United

Published 10:31 pm Friday, September 13, 2019

Live United by Erin Haag

Erin Haag


When I first started this job, I placed a pottery bowl full of candy at our reception desk. Then people started filling up the jar themselves. A board member stopped by and gave us a bag to refill as needed. Now it seems that the jar is always at least half full.

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The other day, I had a meeting with someone who’s had a rough week. I commiserated with he, and then went to the candy jar. Sure enough, someone had filled it with dark chocolate Hershey kisses. My colleague received a listening ear, a hug and some dark chocolate, which she thoroughly enjoyed.

Our theme for this year’s campaign is, “United Through the Years.” We’ve been enjoying the historical look at how Freeborn County has pulled together to provide support and funding for the nonprofits in our area. I was wishing I could find a little more documentation for some years. I happened to be up in an area of our building with binders that I thought belonged to another agency. One caught my eye and I opened it up — and found a dozen scrapbooks of articles. I was so excited, I immediately called Kristin, and we squealed and laughed and celebrated.

This week, someone stopped in to tell me that they were so excited about my last article talking about our Imagination Library. This wonderful advocate of literacy whipped out her checkbook and sponsored a child to receive free books every month. She was so delighted with learning about our program. I was so delighted that someone reads my articles, and it made a tangible difference.

My daughter’s favorite song is “Big Love, Small Moments.” Written and sung by J.J. Heller, it’s about how big love happens in small moments. Both my children have this song and its meaning ingrained into their hearts.

We’ve been asking community members to pose for pictures with a sign saying why they Live United. One teacher wrote out, “I believe in celebrating the little things.” Kristin and I talked tonight about all of our successes this week, and she said, “We’re celebrating all the little things!”

That’s my tie that binds. Celebrating our small accomplishments, from a hug and dark chocolate to finding treasure and reading books. The little things become the big things, and the big things are how we Live United. The little things add up.

On Saturday, Sept. 28, you’ll see some of that celebration in action. Join us at Dine United at the 112 Fall Fest. You’re welcome to bring your own meal or purchase from vendors such as the 112 on Broadway, Jake’s Pizza, Yankee Catering and more. There will be free activities for children, live music and great conversation. Many activities are free, others will have a cost, but a portion of proceeds from each vendor is going to United Way of Freeborn County to help support our agencies.

Later on in the evening, adults can enjoy the live music, sign up for The Beer Mile, try their hand at virtual reality games or lawn games. Kristin’s a natural cheerleader, so I’m pretty sure I need to find some pom-poms for her.

This idea originally was to be simply a community awareness event about United Way and our partner agencies. Then the phone started ringing. Companies are stepping up with donations to make the logistics of such an event happen. Nobody wants to think about the restrooms or the trash, but someone’s got to take care of it! Daily, Kristin and I are overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and generosity of our community. We hope everyone will show up, enjoy themselves and celebrate the little things at Dine United, Sept. 28, starting at 5 p.m. on Broadway in downtown Albert Lea. To borrow a phrase from the decade I’m currently researching: Be there or be square!

Erin Haag is the executive director of United Way of Freeborn County.