Two weeks ago the Midterm election happened. Even though I am very glad it is over – those ads can be very draining - I am also very encouraged by our local participation in the process. Over 75% of eligible Steele County voters turned out for this election which means that the majority of people are concerned about the well-being of our county and its residents. We care about each other and the functioning of local concerns. We are paying attention and participating. We believe in the democratic process.
United Way is another democratic process – it’s a way of voting with your dollars to take care of our community and our neighbors. And like voting in the general election, United Way works best for our community when a large percentage of local residents contribute. If we don’t have a broad enough base of donors (voters) then we are out of balance with what we can do in the community based on the current and emerging needs. It’s not good business to only be able to address the needs of the constituents we’ve always served but important to make room for new voices, and create new opportunities to make our community better. We need our “base” to continue to support us but we also need to hear from EVERYONE. Consider it an act of local patriotism to be a supporter of United Way.
Another way United Way of Steele County can be considered a democratic process is that programs we fund or develop cover a broad demographic section of our community. Every age group and socio-economic sector are positively impacted by our donor’s funds. Our programs aid preschoolers (Dolly Parton Imagination Library, Preschool Transportation) and kids in school (Blooming Prairie Youth Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Steele County Works, a new Middle School enrichment program, Tiger Club – Afterschool Care, Violence Prevention Education –Crisis Resource Center, Dental Education – Let’s Smile). Several programs help senior citizens remain active and living at home (Healthy Seniors, SEMCAC, Mobile Food Shelf). A number of programs support families experiencing poverty and emergencies (Food Shelf, Clothesline, Transitional Housing, Crisis Resource Center, Exchange Club Center, Children’s Remedial Fund, Free Clinic of Steele County, SMRLS). Finally, several program help workers get or keep living wage jobs (Boots to Work, Incent to Save, new Transportation to Work, Steele County Works). We help EVERYONE.
One thing that sets us apart from the political process is the way we fundraise and communicate with the community. We are positive. We are polite. We don’t fundraise year-round but during a relatively short 3 month period at the end of the year. We don’t send a million mailers or have telemarketers call you. We build relationships with our donors and do our best to respect your time. That being said – we don’t always get a chance to ask people personally and directly to support us. And we can’t boast 75% participation in our “voting” process. We need to gain support from more people, if we are going to remain sustainable and viable in the future. We’re doing great now but we can’t rest on past achievements. For the agencies who rely on us to help them and for our community who expects us to do this heavy lifting, we’re not keeping up with inflation by relying solely on those who have supported us in the past. To those donors who have been loyal and generously giving year after year and increasing their donations regularly –we thank you, we are what we are in the community because of your generous support and belief in the work. For those of you who haven’t donated or haven’t donated for a while – we need you. We’ve worked hard to earn your trust and done what you’ve expected us to do to care for the needs of the community. For us to keep up, or to grow, we need your help.
What United Way does in the community these days is much different than what we used to do and completely unique to our local needs. We no longer only raise money and give it out to local agencies but also spend a great deal of time, assessing unmet needs and building programs/projects to meet those needs. Such as support of a new afterschool program which offers enrichment activities for all middle schoolers and support of an expansion of SMART Transit to accommodate workers in the industrial park during shift times. Both of these programs are important because they can stabilize families in very different ways – giving tween kids healthy, stimulating activities with caring adults at an age when experimentation is beginning and breaking the access to work barrier for those for whom transportation is an issue.
We’re working hard for you. Will you “vote” for United Way? Call the office or check out our website for ways to give.
Kim Schaufenbuel is the Executive Director of United Way of Steele County. She can be reached at 507-455-1180 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.