BOTKINS — From the youngest child to the oldest resident, the Shelby County United Way is touching lives. And with the 2018 campaign theme of “United We Win,” more lives will be touched.
“There were 13,000 residents served by the United Way last year,” said Scott Barr, executive director, during the 2018 campaign kickoff Thursday at the Palazzo in Botkins. “That’s one in four residents.”
There were 20 special project grants awarded, six Student United way grants presented and four United POWER grants awarded.
The goal of this year’s campaign is $1,340,000, said Barr. The Pacesetters Campaigns, which were held in August, have already raised $146,196 or 11 percent of the goal.
Shelby County residents are served through grants, programs and other opportunities supported by the United Way. One new group is the Student United Way which is represented by one senior and one junior from each of the schools in the county.
The group met once a month during the 2017-18 school year. They received an allotment of $5,000, which they could give as grants to non-profit organizations in the county.
Representing the group during the luncheon were Grace Homan, Botkins Local Schools, and Grace Olding, Lehman Catholic High School.
“Last year I was offered a seat on the Student United way,” said Homan. “I didn’t know much about the United way.”
The group, she said, looked at the needs in their schools and communities and created a priority list of who to award a grant to.
We noticed that there are needs on a regular basis,” said Olding. “But our needs varied a lot. The small schools said the greatest need was for mental health help. The larger schools said substance abuse was their biggest concern.”
Members of the Student United Way visited the Alpha Center, Agape and the Sidney Police Department. They learned there is a substance abuse problem in Sidney and Shelby County.
“We had hand-on impact and we are able to make a difference,” said Olding.
Various non-profits applied for the grants, they said. The group narrowed down how many applicants they would interview.
“We decided our No. 1 priority is mental health and No. 2 was substance abuse,” said Olding. “We eliminated some applicants and brought in the rest to interview. It was nice being on the less stressful side of the interview.”
They could award a maximum of $1,000 to the successful applicant. The group awarded grants to Sidney Presbyterian Church, Maplewood United Methodist Church, Shelby County Counseling Center, New Choices, the Alpha Center and DARE.
Barr said the interviewing process the students went through was interesting to watch. The interviews were held at Amos Memorial Public Library’s new community meeting room in Sidney.
The applicants, said Barr, were facing a group of 20 high school juniors and seniors as they pitched their case on why they should receive a grant.
“Their (students) perspective was great,” said Barr. “They came to us and said they’d like to see this in their schools.”
Mike Lochard, board president, said he has enjoyed working with Barr the past year in the organization.
“I’ve enjoyed watching Scott mature into the job,” said Lochard. “It’s been a pleasure serving as president this year.”
Campaign chairman Josh Ross said he is pleased to live in a county that sets up initiatives to help prevent issues from happening in the county.
“As the father of two young boys, I want to help Shelby County have a better future,” said Ross. “The Shelby County United way goes above and beyond to do this.
“The United Way champions a problem in the community and finds the right people to get it started (to find a solution),” he said.
Business leaders are giving back to the community through the Day of Action, said Ross.
“It’s nice to see the businesses involved,” said Ross. “They are letting their employees do the POWER kindergarten tutoring program as a volunteer for an hour a week.”
The United Way also helps partner agencies improve the ways they use United Way funding. Donors, he said, are “getting the most bang for their buck” which was donated to the United Way.
“All of the money is being spent wisely,” said Ross. “Our dollars are being stretched to help 29 member agencies.”
Amy West, POWER representative, said the group has awarded more than $18,000 to nonprofits since it was organized in 2014. There are currently 88 members of the organization.
Pastor John Geissler, Agape Distribution, said the organization served 20,000 individuals last year and gives way 2 1/2 million pounds of groceries each year.
Geissler shared a story about a young mother with two small children who went to the Agape door, only to find it was closed. He was driving away from the agency when he saw the mother and watched her in his rear view mirror.
As he saw her shoulders slump, he turned around his car and asked her if she needed food. When she said yes, he went into the building and filled a cart full of food. He then put the food, mom and children into his car and drove her home to Hilltop.
This, he said, is why there is an Agape in Shelby County.
“We serve 5,000 senior citizens,” he said. “Agape is all about the people we serve.”
He said when Agape started 23 years ago, four percent of the people they served were employed. Today, 34 percent of the people served are employed.
“They are struggling to get to the next level,” said Geissler. “When I walk around Shelby County, I see people with their clothes dirty and worn. These people want to be part of our world. United way has stood with us with special interest grants. It’s all about the little girl with the kids in the wagon.
“I want Shelby County to be the first county where the USDA says food insecurity doesn’t happen. Shelby County creates solutions to problems that others can’t solve,” he said. “United we stand to change our county.”
Barr thanked Greg Snyder, Sidney High School digital media productions teacher and students Morgan Carey, Noel Sillers, Addison Hudgins and Jahier Malveaux for creating this year’s United Way Campaign video.
Two new partner agencies were recognized: Agape and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office’s STAR Transitional Treatment House.
The finale celebration for the 2018 campaign will be held Thursday, Nov. 8, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the American Legion in Sidney.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.