Franklin County Area United Way board members, officials

The Franklin County Area United Way finished its 2021 campaign with over $1.2 million raised, a feat that surpassed its $1.05 million goal. In this photo from Nov. 15, are from left, are Christine Brinkmann, Natalie Cash, Sam Straatmann, Abie Gruen, Kasey Owens, Krystal Baxter, Jennifer Pecka, Mary Shofner, Bill Hellebusch, Kim Strubberg and Phillip Kleekamp.

Officials with the Franklin County Area United Way said Monday they have so much to be thankful for this year.

“I am just walking on cloud 1.2 million right about now,” said Mary Shofner, co-chair of this year’s campaign. Along with Executive Director Kim Strubberg, Shofner announced Monday that the annual campaign had shattered this year’s fundraising goal of $1.05 million. This year’s campaign raised more than $1.2 million, according to campaign officials, a staggering feat considering the continued economic upheaval and lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I have no words except thank you. This only happened because of every single person who gave, from the largest donors to the kids who were dumping their pennies into the penny wars at their elementary schools,” Strubberg said. The all-time record for the campaign is $1.29 million, which was set in 2018. Last year’s campaign raised $1.05 million.

Shofner said she is grateful for “the employers, the kids in schools, the individuals in the community who, despite everything we have gone through, focused on other people in our community.”

All of the money donated during the annual campaign will stay in the local community, providing vital funding to a variety of programs and organizations, Shofner said. 

Officials are once again expecting that around 89 cents from every dollar donated will be allocated to 52 partner agencies, including Grace’s Place, Four Rivers YMCA, Meals on Wheels, OATS Transit, the Franklin County 4-H program and other programs aimed at strengthening families, nurturing children, offering support to seniors and those with disabilities and helping agencies that provide emergency services. 

“I hope that is what the community remembers and is grateful for, that this money is staying here and is going to help others,” Shofner said. She said she will forever remember learning the story of Tobias, one of the participants at Exceptional Equestrians, a therapeutic horsemanship program that provides therapy and recreation for individuals with disabilities. 

“I am so thankful for how Exceptional Equestrians has helped him, focusing on his abilities and what he can do,” Shofner said. “We have so many agencies like Exceptional Equestrians, like Empac Group, Temco, Rainbow Abilities Center, who all work with people of various abilities. These programs and the volunteers who work there enrich their lives, but they also enrich our lives and our community.”

Strubberg said this year’s campaign “exceeded her expectations.”

“I think we all thought we would hit our goal, but never in a million years did I think we would be at 1.2 million,” Strubberg said. “My heart just swells with pride at how the community continues to rally around the United Way.” 

She said the weekslong campaign featured many success stories, from first-time contributors sharing why they gave to the United Way to seeing longtime supporters exceed their fundraising totals and seeing the students at Beaufort, Central and Prairie Dell elementary schools in the Union R-XI School District engaged in the campaign. 

The students raised more than $3,385 in the penny war that Strubberg said also “featured a lot of quarters, dimes and nickels.” In total, the school district raised $36,591 for this year’s campaign. 

“I know I say it year after year, but I am just blown away by the generosity of the entire community,” Strubberg said. Some other top donors were Melton Machine & Control Co., which raised more than $166,000; WEG Industries, which raised more than $125,000; Bank of Washington, which raised more than $91,000; and Canam Steel Corp., which saw giving increase by 257 percent this year, raising more than $47,000 for the campaign. 

Among those first-time donors to the campaign were Trilogy Labs, which gave more than $7,100; USA Mortgage, which gave $765; and the Quality Coach, which raised $1,100. 

“This campaign only works because of every single person who gives,” Strubberg said. “Everybody just gave with their heart, and this is the result.”

Shofner said she hopes every donor to this year’s campaign “feels the reward of being such an important part” of the campaign’s success.  “So many times when you set out to give, whether that is your money, your time or your talent, you end up receiving so much more than you give. I hope that they all feel that, too.” 

Strubberg said the United Way plans to celebrate this year’s campaign and acknowledge the top donors at a victory celebration next month. In the meantime, she said planning is already underway for the 2022 campaign. 

“We know that the needs of our community are not going to go away, but we can still help,” Strubberg said. “We, as a United Way family, can still work together to improve lives, and that’s what the United Way is all about.”