UW Sunday Column – Thankful for community volunteers

John KelkerAs originally published in the Sunday Edition of The State Journal-Register on April 5, 2015.

A week ago Thursday, United Way of Central Illinois celebrated its 93rd year of service to our community at our Annual Meeting and Awards Breakfast. The annual meeting marks the official end of last year’s campaign and offers us the opportunity to recognize the individuals, companies and groups who give, advocate and volunteer on behalf of our health and human services community.

This year, our community has cause to celebrate. Thanks to the leadership of the Becker family (Dale & Cathy Becker, Emily Becker, Christine Becker, and Sarah & Sam Sevener), United Way’s annual campaign increased for the first time in three years. Last year’s campaign increase was only the second such increase since the great recession. In all, the campaign raised $2,682,000; an increase of $102,000, or 4%, over the previous year’s final tally.

On behalf of United Way, thank you to the Becker Family for their commitment and for challenging our staff, volunteers and community to reverse the trend. In addition, thank you to our investors and volunteers whose commitment has laid the foundation for a more hopeful future.

At the base of that foundation are the 98 companies in our community who experienced an increase in charitable giving. Among this group were Levi, Ray & Shoup, Memorial Health Systems, Springfield Clinic, and Springfield Public Schools who experienced sizeable increases in their employee campaigns. One organization, Springfield Public Schools was presented United Way’s Championship Award after experiencing campaign growth of 109%.

At Thursday’s meeting, the Becker family introduced the public to the co-chairs of this year’s campaign, Pat and Sarah Phalen. Pat and Sarah have a long history with United Way as fund-raisers, board members and long-time supporters. As last year’s campaign co-chair, Emily Becker, said, “they work very well together as evidenced by how well they are raising their three young children and how well they are managing a very successful bank.”

All of us at United Way could not be more proud to welcome our 2015 Campaign Co-Chairs, Pat and Sarah Phalen. Their commitment to our nonprofit community is inspiring; and, we can’t wait to bring their energy, enthusiasm and leadership to United Way’s annual campaign.

When people think of United Way’s Campaign Chairs, their first thought is of fundraising. However, United Way’s Campaign Chairs are not just fundraisers, they are volunteers. They are individuals who have lent their time and expertise to our efforts to strengthen our community. For this reason, our annual meeting is not just a celebration of the campaign or United Way’s work in our community; it’s a celebration of our community’s volunteers.

Each year, thousands of individuals step forward to lend their talents to our local nonprofit organizations. Among this group of volunteers are those who go the extra mile; driven by a passion for helping others. This group may be any age and come from diverse backgrounds, but share a love for helping others. In an effort to draw attention to volunteerism in our community, we were proud to recognize one such volunteer as the recipient of our inaugural Get Connected Volunteer of Year Award.

Mike Johnson, the regional president at U.S. Bank, was on-hand to announce Andrea Fuchs as United Way’s 2015 Get Connected Volunteer of the Year. The award, sponsored by U.S. Bank, recognizes one outstanding volunteer for their valuable and selfless commitment to not only United Way, but our entire nonprofit community.

Andrea, an employee of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, represents a community of volunteers who quietly assist our local nonprofits; not for attention, but for the satisfaction of making a difference. Andrea was recognized for both her personal volunteering and her efforts to engage, support and coordinate all Wells Fargo volunteer efforts. Among those efforts are blood, food and clothing drives.

In 2014, Andrea coordinated more than 3,600 hours of volunteer time while also serving as the chair for Wells Fargo Community Support Campaign. The Wells Fargo Community Support Campaign includes coordinating the organization’s Annual Golf Outing & other activities for staff to participate in to raise money for our local nonprofit organizations.

At a personal level, Andrea participates in many volunteer activities including United Way’s Days of Action, where she also serves on the planning committee, holiday drives and meals on wheels in her local community.
Although we only recognize one volunteer of the year, each of our community’s volunteers deserves our heartfelt thanks and our appreciation for their efforts.

On that note, thank you to our volunteers, investors and advocates for making 2014 a memorable year for our community and for laying the foundation for the great things to come. After all, great things happen when we Live United.

John Kelker is the president of United Way of Central Illinois. Look for United Way columns weekly in Our Towns.