Diane Baker has had a long history of helping through the United Way of Mower County
Published 6:47 am Monday, November 18, 2013
For the love of helping others
Diane Baker knows the United Way of Mower County from the top down.
She’s a former president of the United Way’s board of directors, a longtime volunteer at the United Way’s Day of Caring clean-up event, and she was one of the volunteers to help figure out Mower County needs.
“It’s a real gem to find somebody who has that kind of involvement in the community,” said Mandi Lighthizer-Schmidt, United Way executive director.
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Ever since she joined the United Way’s board almost eight years ago, Baker has been actively involved in the its philanthropic efforts to help people in the community.
For Baker, the experience was a blessing. She had already volunteered with Apple Lane Child Care Center, as well as the Austin Lions, but she still wanted to help people around town.
“I was also looking for things where I could get involved in the community,” Baker said.
Though she had given to the United Way every year since starting her career 20 years ago, she didn’t think to become part of the United Way’s volunteer efforts until a friend asked her to join the board of directors. From there, Baker became integral to United Way efforts, according to Lighthizer- Schmidt.
Baker was one active volunteer: She served as president and vice president of the board, served on several funding committees, volunteered for Day of Caring and the United Way’s outerwear coat drive, among other things.
One of Baker’s largest contributions to the United Way was her time overseeing the community assessment committee. United Way volunteers were part of a planning process to find some of Austin and Mower County’s biggest needs as part of a community study, which took place about three years ago. Baker headed the committee to find some of Austin’s biggest needs.
“That hadn’t been done in Austin for maybe a good 20 years,” Baker said.
The results weren’t surprising: There were many in Austin who needed better jobs, better insurance and better child care, among other things. Several years later, United Way funding and volunteers are still working to cover some of those gaps.
“The assessment shaped our agenda for change,” Lighthizer- Schmidt said.
It also helped shape the Apple Lane Child Care Center’s recent expansion. United Way officials worked with several entities to help fund the $3 million early childcare center expansion, in response to the assessment. The 17,000-square foot expansion was completed this summer, and Apple Lane now expects to host more than 300 children up to age 12 annually.
“We could actually prove to the community that there was a need,” Baker said of the project.
Though Baker has recently slowed her volunteerism — she changed jobs about a year ago — she still actively supports and donates to the United Way, and encourages others to donate their time. Lighthizer-Schmidt said she’s thankful for Baker’s support through the years and hopes others contact the United Way to donate their time to help the community, as well.