WILLMAR -- With a recession in hand, a newly expanded service area and the largest financial goal ever set, the 2009-10 fundraising campaign was challenging for the United Way of West Central Minnesota.
But during an appreciation banquet Friday, United Way volunteers, donors, board members and staff celebrated the generosity of a community that raised $938,922.
"That's almost a million dollars," exclaimed Executive Director Stacey Roberts to a round of applause by the audience.
Last year the organization expanded its territory and changed its name. United Way of Kandiyohi County had previously been limited to communities in the county. As the United Way of West Central Minnesota, the organization stretches to communities like Olivia, Benson, Litchfield, Lake Henry and Bird Island.
With more people to serve, and a larger base of potential donors, the United Way board set an initial revenue goal of $982,000. In January, when United Way was $300,000 from that goal, Roberts said she wondered if the goal was too high. After whittling away $110,000 from the budget and setting a new goal of $852,000, an urgent plea was put out to the community. She was hoping money would "fall from the sky." It did. One day a partner called to say they would contribute an additional $25,000. The next week, Roberts took a call for another $25,000 donation.
On Friday, the final day of the fundraising campaign, Roberts said the final tally of $938,922 was beyond expectations. Preparations begin Monday for the 2010-11 campaign.
One of the newest programs is the Growmobile, which provides on-site education for preschoolers and parents for at-risk populations.
Dr. Jerry Kjergaard, Willmar Public Schools superintendent, said the positive impact of the Growmobile is being seen in the success of his young students. He was the event's keynote speaker.
Kjergaard said schools educate affluent children well because those kids usually have access to books and can read at an early age. But children who come from poor families walk through the school door behind in their education and sometimes never catch up.
United Way is helping the schools help those children catch up, he said.
Kjergaard encouraged the community to help United Way meet its new financial goals.
During the appreciation banquet, a list of area businesses, medical facilities, individuals and public entities were cited for their efforts.
Jennie-O Turkey Store was the first recipient of the new "100 Grand Club."
The company donated $107,000 to this campaign, with two-thirds coming from employee contributions.