The United Way of Howard County drew community members together Wednesday to talk about how this year it’s doing things a little differently.
The organization’s annual campaign kickoff was held in the Maple Crest Middle School cafeteria to highlight its goal of promoting education. Jeremy Luna, principal of Taylor Elementary School, and several United Way key players spoke during the event.
Luna said his talking points included the phrase, “United Way has done a lot of good over the years,” adding that the phrase was an understatement.
“I think everyone knows somebody who has been impacted, touched, affected and had something done by the United Way,” he said. “If you really think about it, the tornado that happened just about a year ago was a prime example. As soon as that disaster hit, some of the first people on the scene were the people in the white shirts.”
Bob Varsanik, FCA general manager and campaign chair for the 2017 annual campaign, said he’s been donating to the United Way for more than 29 years but he never really thought about why. His goal this year, he said, is to help other people realize why they should donate.
“What is the mission of United Way? It’s a strong word but the word we’re using this year is fight,” he said. “It is a fight, and it’s a fight for health, it’s a fight for education, financial stability of every person in the community. … It’s not just based on their wealth or their well-being, but it’s everybody.”
Last year, the organization, which provides funding for 16 agencies in the community, announced a goal of $2.1 million. This year, instead of announcing a dollar amount they aim to raise, the organization is focusing on its 75 in 5 goal, which aims to ensure that 75 percent of incoming kindergarteners are ready to learn by 2022.
The organization announced this goal earlier this year at its annual campaign meeting. The goal came about after the United Way of Howard County heard from community members that it needed to focus more heavily on early childhood education.
The United Way stressed that it will continue to raise money for its regular programming, funding agencies such as mobile food pantries, the Kokomo YMCA and Project Access, but it will also raise money for early childhood education programming.
Over the last several months, the organization has rolled out several initiatives aimed at supporting the 75 in 5 goal.
First, the United Way has worked to create a common assessment to be used in kindergarten classrooms to determine exactly how many students are entering the classroom ready to learn. The United Way of Howard County met with kindergarten and early learning teachers to determine what skills are absolutely necessary for children to know when they enter school.
Currently, the organization estimates that approximately 45 percent of children are entering kindergarten ready to learn, but the number could be skewed because the public school districts in the county were each using different assessment tools. The common assessment will give the schools and the organization a more accurate picture of kindergarten readiness.
It has also started initiatives, such as Real Men Read, through which adult volunteers read to children in early learning centers, and by working with the Community Foundation of Howard County, they were able to help secure funding for the On My Way Pre-K expansion, which will allow low-income students access to pre-K in the county.
Though the United Way of Howard County does not have a dollar amount goal for this year, Varsanik said he hopes to beat the amount raised last year, which came out to $2,100,437.
“We’re facing big challenges,” he said. “As with every year, we want to do better than the year before.”
During the meeting, the FCA Foundation presented three checks for the annual campaign totaling $25,000, which could be matched by the Indiana United Ways, bringing the total up to $50,000. Jeff Young, who served as campaign chair last year, announced a check from Haynes International for $45,000.
Over the next several months, the United Way of Howard County will rely on its loaned associates to visit with businesses and organizations in the community to continue to raise money and awareness for 75 in 5.