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The United Way is back in Howard and Tipton counties.
Following a year of reorganization, the local chapter of the United Way is ready to resume its position as a clearinghouse for charitable giving in the community. It marked the return with a kickoff for its annual fundraising campaign, aiming for $1 million, which will provide grant funding for dozens of nonprofit organizations.
The kickoff took place at the Bel Air on the city’s south side, and more than 150 local business and nonprofit leaders were in attendance to welcome United Way back to prominence. This year’s campaign chairman, Paul Wyman, welcomed the crowd and announced the charity’s return.
“We are fired up, and we're excited to see you all,” said Wyman. “We are reunited. This is a special moment for us and for our community. It's no secret United Way had some challenges in the last couple of years. We have all decided we're not looking back. We are looking forward.
“Great things are going to come from the United Way in our community this year. The word ‘united’ means coming together for a common purpose. Our common purpose is to ensure that dollars are raised to help people in our community.”
New United Way CEO Dana Neer introduced himself to those in attendance and briefly recapped the transition that is taking place within the agency since his appointment in late summer. New board members have been added. A financial audit is in progress. United Way has reached out to its largest donors and supporters to begin rebuilding its volunteer network.
And throughout that time, United Way has continued to provide support however it could. Even though grant funding was halted in 2022 as the organization recovered, it has continued programming such as Buddy Bags, which provides tons of food to local students, and its information and referral service, which has aided more than 4,600 people so far this year, Neer disclosed.
More than anything, Neer lauded the United Way staff and volunteers for their efforts.
“These people are passionate about you,” said Neer. “They have energy. They care, and they're smart. They know what we do, and we do a lot of great things. I'm really honored to lead this team.”
Kokomo Mayor Tyler Moore is a recent addition to the United Way Board of Directors. He was unable to attend the kickoff, but sent a video message of support. True to form, Moore served as cheerleader.
"If you haven't heard, United Way is back, and we're excited to get things rolling," said Moore. "But we can't do it alone. It takes you, the community, to continue to stand behind United Way and lift it up. So, get ready for this incredible campaign that will bring United Way up like a phoenix from the ashes to support our community because we need them now more than ever."
United Way’s new internal campaign director Allie Tomlinson read a proclamation from the mayor declaring Nov. 15 United Way Campaign Day. She also announced the campaign goal of $1 million.
Bridges Outreach is one of many organizations that benefit from United Way funding. Its founder, Travis Taflinger, explained to those in attendance how the organization helps his nonprofit. Two years ago, Bridges began rehabilitating homes, teaching the high school students who participate in the program a range of important skills, from planning and budgeting to basic construction techniques. Once rehabilitated, the homes are sold to first-time homebuyers. Through United Way’s assistance, Bridges has successfully flipped eight homes.
“First and foremost, I want to give thanks to God who leads us and guides us through His Holy Spirit every day,” said Taflinger. “Without Him, there's no Bridges. I'm so thankful for what He has done, and United Way has been a big part of that.”
Trish Severns, executive director of the Kokomo Family YMCA, also encouraged support for United Way. The YMCA has been a recipient of grant funding from the organization for decades. Many of the programs and membership subsidies that have been offered over the years are a result of United Way’s assistance.
“I can truly tell you from the bottom of my heart that United Way makes an incredible difference in this community,” said Severns. “Without it, we're not nearly as strong, and we're a pretty gritty community. I can tell you, we've operated without United Way and operated with United Way. It's much better with United Way.
“The need is there. Family Services Association has a need. Bona Vista has a need. The Carver Center has a need. We truly need to come together as a community, as I know we always do, and answer the call to join United Way and raise more money than ever.”
The United Way annual funding campaign is now underway. For those organizations and businesses interested in having United Way make a presentation, or for information about donating or volunteering, call 765-457-4357.
“A rising tide does lift all ships,” said Wyman. “That's what we're doing. We're showing you that this tide is rolling into Kokomo with United Way high, and all ships will be lifted as a result. Our community is better when the United Way is strong.”