Generosity boosts happiness, lowers blood pressure and improves people’s overall well-being. The United Way of Greater Kansas City wants its 2015 campaign to ignite those good feelings in a growing number of people by getting them to donate generously to help our many neighbors in need.
The campaign kicks off with a luncheon for 1,000 people at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at Union Station. John Quiñones, host of ABC’s “What Would you Do?,” is the guest speaker.
The goal is to top last year’s total of $35 million, which fell under the $37.5 million raised in donations in 2013.
“We’re feeling very good about the possibilities this year,” Brent Stewart, president of the United Way of Greater Kansas City, told The Star’s editorial board.
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For the first time in the organization’s 97-year history in Kansas City, the campaign is being led by two women — Alise Martiny with the Greater Kansas City Building and Trades Council, and Roshann Parris with Parris Communications.
Like last year, the campaign’s focus will be on four key areas: poverty, literacy, career readiness and well-being, which includes physical and mental health plus neighborhood safety.
“There’s more need now than there’s ever been,” Martiny said.
In the six-county Kansas City area, 224,210 people live in poverty; 82,000 of them are children age 17 and under, according to the most recent U.S. Census American Community Survey. That means one in eight residents lives in poverty, which is an increase from one in 10 in 2008.
Literacy remains a major problem: 60 percent of Kansas City area fourth-graders are not reading at or above proficiency.
“We’ve got to do better with literacy,” Martiny said. “We have young adults graduating from high school who are not career ready in literacy.”
But the United Way has programs to tackle the concerns, including Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library providing free books every month to children from birth to age 5. To combat poverty, its NextStepKC initiative recently helped more than 6,600 residents receive tax refunds totaling more than $6.5 million. That’s a powerful shot to the Kansas City area economy.
On career readiness, the United Way’s Decade of Difference helps young adults in need connect with higher education, internships and jobs. In all, donations to the United Way fund about 170 agencies and about 300 programs.
“There’s a lot of new energy in this town,” Martiny said. United Way is right to draw that into the campaign.
It also is doing the right thing in reaching out to young adults ages 30 and under through its LINC initiative (Lead. Impact. Network. Change.), which incorporates social media. As baby boomers retire, this community needs to get more millennials to get involved in giving.
“We’re trying to communicate in the way our younger generation communicates,” Parris said.
As the area economy slowly rebounds and more jobs continue to be created, United Way volunteers will encourage new workers to become part of the effort to help their neighbors. Ford Motor Co., for example, announced this year that it was adding 900 employees at its Claycomo plant to keep up with consumer demand. Construction also is rebounding, and new entrepreneurs are starting businesses. All are opportunities for the United Way campaign.
United Way volunteers in their “peer to peer” drive hope to get more people to make donations to benefit this community. The campaign ends Dec. 3 with a celebration. For information, visit unitedwaygkc.org.