WILLMAR -- Barely a month into its official 2010 campaign, the United Way of West Central Minnesota has already reached 34 percent of its goal of raising $915,000 for programs that meet regional community needs.
"We're seeing a good response. It's encouraging and hopeful," said Stacey Roberts, executive director of the regional United Way.
Last year, with a recession gripping much of the region's economy, the agency struggled to raise enough funds to meet its goal of $852,000. Ultimately $938,922 was raised, but it took an urgent, last-minute appeal to community donors to get there.
This year the organization is seeing more optimism, Roberts said.
Visits with area CEOs have been positive, she said. "We're seeing it in our campaign. Hopefully we're on the upturn here."
The United Way of West Central Minnesota allocates to 54 programs and services in 28 communities. Programs focus on education, health and the addressing of poverty and basic needs.
The regional United Way also directly operates a volunteer center, a Growmobile service that brings preschool education to neighborhoods and day care centers to promote kindergarten readiness, and an in-kind program for households that are needy or in crisis.
The agency also hosts Empower, a women's philanthropy initiative focused on kindergarten readiness. The initiative has been active in Kandiyohi County for more than three years and recently expanded to Litchfield.
This year's community business drive has raised $21,000 so far. A pie auction last month raised another $2,800.
The United Way also recently received a $12,400 challenge grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation. Donors were challenged to raise money through an online giving portal; the Bremer Foundation matched the amount one-to-one, to a maximum of $6,000.
Of the 50 nonprofits in rural Minnesota who support programs for youths and who were chosen to receive a challenge grant, the United Way of West Central Minnesota was among the top five in raising the matching funds.
Money from the challenge grant has been designated for the Growmobile and for the United Way's Imagination Library, Roberts said.
The next opportunity for the public to support United Way children's services will be on Nov. 5 when "Chair Affair" is hosted at JT Ranch in rural Spicer from 7 to 10 p.m. Chairs created by local artists will be auctioned off.
The evening also will include food and live music. Proceeds from the event will benefit Empower and its kindergarten readiness efforts.