United Way starts quest for $1.1M

Published 10:50 am Friday, September 9, 2011

It has begun.

The United Way of Mower County kicked off its annual campaign Thursday to the ovation of many Mower County movers and shakers at the Hormel Historic Home. UWMC’s mission this time is to raise $1.1 million by the end of the year.

“We are actively campaigning in the community,” said Mandi Lighthizer-Schmidt, UWMC executive director.

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The campaign marks months of preparation engaging the community and helping to fund key services and groups around the county. What sets this year apart is the increasing prominence United Way funds are playing in local services. Though it’s not the only factor, the fact that state and federal funding to services like ARC Mower County, Cedar Valley Services, Wapiti Meadows and other places are dropping is causing a bigger need for outside funding.

“Quite honestly, we’ve been seeing decreases in, for sure state levels, for years,” Lighthizer-Schmidt said.

Mary Barinka is grateful for United Way funding. Over the past two years, she’s been instrumental in helping several organizations and events, such as the Circle of Friends Day Camp, get off the ground for special needs residents like her daughter. Without UWMC funding, these groups wouldn’t get off the ground and physically and mentally disabled people wouldn’t have nearly as much assistance.

It was at the Circle of Friends Day Camp, which finished its second year in August, where Barinka said she felt at ease knowing her daughter was there. It was the first time she didn’t have to give coaches or instructors a crash course in autism spectrum disorder, which her daughter is diagnosed with, or worry about whether her child was okay.

“I didn’t have to do any preparatory work the whole time for her,” Barinka said.

To that end, Barinka hopes residents and corporate donors can step up to meet the increasing need for support.

“They have a lot to offer the community,” Barinka said.

UWMC volunteers and board members will be out and about asking for community support in the coming months. Donation pamphlets were in mailboxes Thursday and there will be plenty of billboards featuring UWMC volunteers and directors appearing across Austin.

“Anything that we can do to give back and support our community is very helpful,” said Katie Baskin, one of the UWMC directors.