Jeff Heuchert, Stratford Gazette
The United Way of Perth-Huron has planted its seeds – 51, to be exact – each one representing a project, program or service across the two counties that is supported in some way by the agency.
Now those seeds need watering. Lots of it.
The agency on Monday announced its 2012 campaign goal – $1,082,012 – in downtown Stratford, where Festival Hydro worker and United Way volunteer Brad Jezzard rode a cherry picker to the top of the United Way thermometer to reveal the target amount.
The campaign theme is “Growing the Seeds of Change.”
“What we need from the community this year is a lot of water, a lot of donations,” said United Way executive director Ryan Erb. “We’re looking for everybody to help us get to our campaign goal.”
The little over $1.08 million is admittedly a lofty target for the agency, which struggled down the stretch last year to reach its 2011 goal after a drop in donations and an unexpected funding commitment to tornado relief efforts in Goderich. Yet, it’s a challenge that Erb said the United Way and its supporters are ready to tackle – and must tackle.
He noted one-in-three residents in Huron and Perth benefit from the United Way’s many connections and partnerships.
“We just felt the people and the needs out there were so great we had to increase the goal this year,” Erb explained. “If you do the math it’s about a two per cent increase (over last year’s target). It’s not a huge increase, but it will undoubtedly stretch us to get there.
“But we felt we could take that on.”
Campaign co-chair Elizabeth Cooper challenged residents to give just $2 a week. That would be enough to provide shelter to a homeless youth for three days, give a special needs child eight hours of additional support from a program assistant and provide reading glasses to 25 low-vision clients.
“We’re only asking for a little bit,” she added.
Cooper, who is the content editor of local online news site I on Stratford, was joined by her co-chair Nick Sawicki, a radio personality at 101.7 The One in Wingham.
Sawicki relayed his experience as a “Little Brother” while growing up, saying it was a positive experience he hasn’t forgotten.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Stratford is one of the United Way’s 24 member agencies. In addition to the regular funding those groups receive, the United Way assists various causes in a variety of different ways, whether it is providing seed money to start-ups like the Local Community Food Centre and PF Solutions practice firm, offering administrative support to local organizations or running an employment centre for former FRAM workers on behalf of the province.
The United Way has also subsidized the rent for some of the agencies located in the United Centre building like Habitat for Humanity Stratford-Perth.
“They started with us a couple years ago and didn’t have a lot of money to put towards rent so we gave them the best deal we could,” said Erb. “They’ve grown since then, they’ve been able to hire more staff, they’ve been able to pay a bit more rent, and now in a few months they’ll be moving off to their (new) site at the ReStore.
“We feel that was a really big success story about what the United Centre was built for,” he added.
It was noted at Monday’s kick-off that 12 per cent of the campaign goal – $126,496 – has already been collected, almost enough to light up the first bulb on the thermometer, which marks 15 per cent raised.
Cooper said she hopes to have the bulb lit up by the end of what’s a busy first week of the campaign. Barbecues were planned for Goderich, Wingham and Listowel later in the week while a kick-off luncheon will be held in Stratford at the Kiwanis Community Centre on Friday. Tickets are $5 at the door or by calling 519-271-7730.
Mayor Dan Mathieson also attended Monday’s event on behalf of the city. He urged people to step up during difficult times and help those in the community who are a little bit less fortunate.
“It’s a daunting task, but the board and the volunteers of the United Way in Huron and Perth are up to it and I think all of us owe it to them to be right there with them.”