BOTKINS — “We’re Better Together” resonated through the Palazzo Thursday as the annual kickoff luncheon for the 2015 Shelby County United Way Campaign was held.
The goal for the campaign, said Scott Barr, executive director, is $1,325,000. One new program, he said, has been added to the agency’s funding programs.
“Shelby County is a generous community,” said Barr. “There are neighbors helping neighbors. There are agencies here helping their clients.
“The health of our community is strong,” he said. “Employment is moving in the right direction.”
“I was honored to be involved in the campaign chairman for many years,” said Duane Gaier, board of trustee president, and city of Sidney parks and recreation director. “Every year I learn more about how compassionate and caring the Shelby County community is.
“We all understand that in Shelby County we are better together,” Gaier said.
Gaier recognized all board members, pat campaign chairs, past board presidents, United Way funded agencies, POWER members and the United Way staff.
Serving as campaign chairman is Tom Martin, president of the Sidney and Troy Body Carstar. Martin said he moved to Sidney when he was 15 years old and quickly learned what a caring community it was.
“This is an awesome community,” said Martin. “This is a compassionate and giving community. I believe in giving back to the community with my time and money. “
Martin said he joined the board of Big Brothers/Big Sisters three years ago.
“I believe the youth is the future of the community. Big Brothers/Big Sisters is helping to change lives.”
Martin said there are 27 agencies who receive United Way funding.
“With the United Way, there isn’t anything we can’t accomplish,” said Martin.
The new program added to the United Way funding, said Barr is the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. Through a partnership with various businesses and the library, children from birth to five years of age receive a free book in the mail each month.
“We pooled our funding to adopt the program in Shelby County,” said Barr.
And that effort has paid off. As of Thursday, 40 percent of all eligible children in the county are signed up to receive a book each month. There are 3,400 eligible children and 1,382 children are enrolled in the program.
“Literacy is the cornerstone of success,” said Suzanne Cline, director of Shelby County Libraries, which is one of the partners in the program. The program costs $25 per child and is underwritten through the partnership.
Cline said reading to children from birth until they are three years of age helps develop their literary skills so they will be ready to read in kindergarten. Studies have shown if a parent is already reading to a child, with the addition of the Imagination Library book, the reading time will increase.
“Because of these reading habits, children will seek materials outside the home such as at the library and the programs they offer,” said Cline.
The success of the Imagination Library program will be seen when the children go to kindergarten and what their readiness score is.
In August books were sent to 143 children to children in Anna; 77 to Botkins; 126 to Fort Loramie; 38 to Houston; 64 to Jackson Center; four to Kettlersville; 21 to Maplewood; 12 to Minster; three to New Knoxville; two to Pemberton; seven to Piqua (Lockington); eight to Port Jefferson; 62 to Russia; 814 to Sidney; and one to Wapakoneta. All the children reside in Shelby County.
“This is an investment program for us,” said Barr. “Wilson Health has been vital to its success. We are blessed to have a locally owned hospital to do this for us.”
The hospital, he said, enrolls each newborn child in the program while the baby and mom are still in the hospital.
Kendra Hamaker, director of the Shelby County ARC, explained funding from United Way is vital for their program. In addition to meeting the needs of individuals with developmental disabilities, ARC provides social and recreational programs for them.
She shared four programs that ARC offers. The first is Camp Dalanda, which was created in the memory of Dalanda Roddy. Two Sidney Middle School helped start the program in her honor. The camp provides an opportunity for 12 campers to experience an overnight camp. Each camper is paired up with a high school volunteer.
“What we’ve seen is one large group of friends after the camp is over,” said Hamaker. The camp is held at the Western Buckeye Camp in Houston.
The ARC also holds a week-long day camp at Sidney Middle School. Participants attend the camp during the day and they go on field trips and do crafts and other activities at the school.
The other two programs are held monthly, she said. There’s a Friday Night Out for adults and a Teen Night Out.
“We have different themed activities,” she said of the events which last three hours each time they are held. “We’ll do a craft, have supper and then do something else. We’ve done a talent show, a pajama party and casino night.”
She said on an average 36 adults attend the Friday Night Out and 17 teens attend the Teen Night Out.
Big Brothers/Big Sisters helps changes the lives of children, said Jenny Bruns, executive director of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Shelby and Darke County.
“There were 327 children served in Shelby County last year,” said Bruns.
BBBS offers two programs for children, she said. The first is an afterschool Big Buddies program which meets from October to May. High School students are paired up with children and meet at the school after the school day is over.
“We have programs in all four of the elementary schools in the Sidney City Schools,” said Bruns. “We had 88 high school volunteers and 75 children who were served.”
She anticipates larger numbers this year since the fourth elementary school was added in Sidney.
The organization also sponsors the community based program which matches up children ages 5 to 16 with a positive adult role model. They meet twice a month, she said.
“We have 13 kids who are waiting to be matched,” she said. “We had 92 matches this year.”
There is also a mentoring program serving 18 children who have incarcerated parents, said Bruns.
This year’s campaign, said Martin, is off to a good start thanks to the Pacesetter Campaigns of numerous businesses and groups throughout the county. They began their campaigns in August and have raised $122,495 of this year’s goal.
“We are already ahead of last year,” said Barr. “We are kicking off the campaign with 9.5 percent raised.”
The campaign will run through the finale celebration planned for Thursday, Nov. 5, at 11:30 a.m. at the American Legion in Sidney.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822; follow her on Twitter @MelSpeicherSDN. Follow the SDN on Facebook, www.facebook.com/SidneyDailyNews.