The United Way of Greater Kansas City on Wednesday launched its annual campaign to help the community’s needy, hoping to increase the number of donors and raise more money than last year.
Forty-five minutes into the kickoff luncheon, the campaign was $8,000 to the good, thanks to a raffle for a Kansas City Chiefs helmet signed by running back Jamaal Charles. It went home with Johnson County government worker Tiffany Hentschel.
Although the charity isn’t setting a monetary goal, “if we can just get more people giving a dollar, it adds up,” said Patrick “Duke” Dujakovich, president of the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO and campaign co-chairman, along with Terry Bassham, president and CEO of KCP&L.
Last year’s campaign brought in more than $37 million.
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In an economy barely recovered from a deep recession, the challenge and the need are considerable, Dujakovich said. While the economy has turned around, a lot of workers “are still struggling,” he said.
Charity officials said this year’s campaign focuses on needs and new ways to help change the community’s statistics on poverty, literacy, career readiness and health.
Numbers tell the Kansas City area’s story: 378,000 live at or near the poverty line, 145,000 can’t read, 22 percent of young people are not prepared for the workforce and 200,000 people are in poor health.
“When we come together and work as a community… we can change those numbers,” Dujakovich said. When the numbers change, “we all benefit as a result.”
One after another, members of the United Way’s Young Leaders Society stepped up to tell the stories of people who have benefited from services supported with United Way dollars:
▪ A 52-year-old nurse raising her granddaughter in Independence while her daughter is deployed to Afghanistan. She lost her job and struggled to pay bills until she called United Way 2-1-1 and got help with rent from Veterans’ Navigator. Now she is looking for a new job.
▪ The young father of a 4-year-old son who loves to read. The boy, holding up two books and flashing a broad smile, appeared on a giant screen above the hundreds who gathered inside the Arrowhead Stadium Tower Club for the United Way kickoff celebration. The father enrolled the boy in the United Way-supported Dolly Parton Imagination Library program so his son now gets a new book in the mail every month.
▪ The young woman who as a child was passionate about health and wanted to go to medical school. Her single mother couldn’t afford college tuition. The girl joined Decade of Difference, a United Way program that helps young people afford college by matching money a child saves toward school. The young woman graduated from Stetson University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
▪ The 50-something couple with health problems. He is legally blind and she has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Both had trouble maintaining an income. They called United Way 2-1-1 for utility assistance and learned about getting home weatherization and allergy-free mattresses. Because the wife can breathe better, she can better care for her husband.
“No other organization can focus on these issues better than United Way,” Bassham said. “We are perfectly positioned to help.”
To add to its contingent of helpers, United Way also announced its first Latino Leadership Initiative as part of its commitment to diversity. Last year it launched an African-American Leadership Initiative.
“Latino and Latina leaders in the community will help identify issues facing the Latino community,” said Beto Lopez, vice president at Arvest Bank, and leader of the new leadership initiative.
Ending the kickoff, Chiefs President Mark Donovan announced two new fundraisers for the United Way. One will sell club seats packaged with tailgating space. Another, called Pledges for Punts, will allow fans to pledge an amount of money every time punter Dustin Colquitt pins a Chiefs opponent inside the 20-yard line.