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United Way of Nobles County in midst of fundraising campaign

By Gretchen O'Donnell

WORTHINGTON — For decades, the United Way has been actively serving the people of Nobles County,

Formerly known as Worthington Area United Way, the name changed to United Way of Nobles County in 2009 to better express the focus of the organization. The agency launched its annual fundraising campaign Sept. 16; it continues through Nov. 15, and the annual telethon is set for Nov. 6.

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President Heidi Hanten is very thankful for the support the United Way receives from businesses, organizations and individuals in this county.

“I am grateful to be the president and serve on the United Way Board to see firsthand the generosity of the community,” Hanten wrote in the organization’s 2013-2014 brochure.

The United Way of Nobles County provides financial support to many area non-profit organizations. The local United Way mission statement is: “Improving lives in Nobles County by mobilizing the caring power of our communities.” That mission is carried out year-round, but never more noticeably than at this time of year when its annual fund drive is in full swing.

“All contributions will stay within Nobles County to help strengthen our communities,” Hanten said.

Twenty-one organizations were approved for support by the United Way for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, for which the fundraising goal is $160,000.

“We are pleased to be able to support these groups that are doing a lot of things for our community,” Hanten said. “These groups benefit a lot of people, and often people in town don’t necessarily know about them.”

The Southwest Minnesota Chapter of the American Red Cross serves five counties — Nobles, Rock, Martin, Murray, and Jackson. The United Way provided approximately 10 percent of its annual budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. 

Contrary to popular belief, the Red Cross is not a government-funded agency. \

“We might have FEMA come in and work with us in a crisis, but we are not a government agency,” Jennifer Hyk, executive director of the Southwest Minnesota Chapter, explained. “We rely solely on donations and grants from groups like the United Way. We are so incredibly appreciative to the community for their support and to the United Way for their funding. Their support helps us provide all of our services.”

These services are five-fold. 

* International services, such as “international tracing” in the case of families that are separated due to civil unrest, natural disaster or war. There were two local cases of this in the last fiscal year. 

* Blood donation. The Red Cross provides over half of the nation’s blood supply. Last year in Nobles County there were 16 blood drives, for a total of 840 units of blood.

* Health and safety, such as swimming, lifeguarding and babysitting classes. A total of 674 individuals took classes in Nobles County last year.

*Emergency communication for military families overseas. Thirteen out of 26 cases that the Southwest Minnesota Chapter handled last year were Nobles Country families. 

*Disaster preparedness and response. Last year 13 local disaster situations were aided by the Red Cross in Nobles County, including 4 house fires.

“We meet families’ immediate disaster needs,” Hyk said. “The United Way helps us carry out our mission to prevent and alleviate suffering locally.”

Junior Achievement is a another program that is financially supported on the local level. It works “to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy” (its mission statement) through four or five hands-on, 30-60 minute classes, depending on the age of the students. Classes are taught by volunteers and have been offered in Worthington schools since 1978.

Currently, there Junior Achievement classes in Worthington for kindergarten through third grade. Each class — and there were a total of 40 last year — costs $205-$250. 

“Junior Achievement teaches kids money management skills,” said Cindy Penning, local coordinator. “Proper money management is part of being a healthy person. Learning to handle money is a life-long skill.

“The material for the younger kids is great and they really enjoy it,” Penning continued. “They learn to run a restaurant in third grade, for example, figuring out how many plates they have to sell to break even, figuring out their rent and inventory and employees. We talk about future schooling, too — what they have to do to reach their goals.”

Penning wishes the classes could expand to the middle and senior high schools.

“The material for the upper grades is so good,” she said. “It teaches them personal money management, how to be responsible with a paycheck, general banking and budgeting skills. They learn about the global economy. Here in Worthington we have a worldwide representation of people, which makes the global economy idea even more relatable.”

Love INC (Love In the Name of Christ) is a joint venture of 17 local churches working together to serve the needs of their neighbors. Rather than duplicating the offerings of other agencies in the area, Love INC’s hotline is a resource, pointing people in the best direction to receive help.

For the past three years, the United Way of Nobles County has supported the ministry of Love INC with its hotline/phone center clearinghouse financial needs. Mirtha Workman, clearinghouse coordinator, organizes and oversees the 12 phonebank volunteers. 

“The volunteers are a vital piece to the clearinghouse,” Workman said. “They are the first people that callers meet and hear. The volunteers begin a relationship with the neighbors in need who have called us. Their needs can be so big, but we help them understand their self-worth and how much God loves them first. We give them time to tell their story and we listen — maybe even for half an hour — before we begin to help with their needs.”

Love INC Director Brian Frodermann agrees. 

“We want to focus on the person rather than just their need,” he said. “Then we can talk through their problem, refer them to existing resources in the community and then, if they still have needs, mobilize individual church members to help out.” 

Love INC also offers assistance through donated furniture, car rides to medical appointments and even basic household needs like dish soap or laundry detergent if needed. It tries to offer a hand up rather than a hand out.

Love INC has a new offering that Frodermann and Workman are excited about. 

“This year our support from the United Way is going to our new Transformational Ministry, which is educational classes,” Frodermann said. “We’ll have classes in things like finances, parenting and job skills. We’re working alongside our neighbors in need so that they can be a part of the decision-making process on what we should offer and what times work best for the classes to be held.

“The funds we’ve received from United Way enable us to focus less time on fundraising and more time on our mission,” Frodermann added. “We’re glad that the United Way has enabled us to develop this next stage of the ministry.”

RSVP of Southwest Minnesota is part of the Corporation for National and Community Service, including such entities as Americorp and the Peace Corp. As such, it is federally funded for its basic offerings — that being a place where seniors (anyone older than age 55) in the county can come to volunteer their time and energies in areas such as nursing homes, Pioneer Village, the Historic Dayton House, local schools, the library and even as Salvation Army bell ringers.

“What the United Way does for us is enables us to do things beyond the basics,” said Joanne Bartosh, Nobles County Coordinator for RSVP of Nobles County. “Our senior volunteers save the county thousands of dollars each year. With the money we receive from the United Way, we are able to thank those volunteers with a recognition picnic out at Pioneer Village each year.”

But the funding from the United Way goes to more than just a picnic. 

“The United Way also allows us to buy supplies like quilt batting, scissors, and needles and thread so we can make quilts and mittens and fleece blankets for people in the county who need them,” Bartosh said. “We are able to buy small toys and diapers for diaper bags that we donate to WIC.”

In this way, RSVP is serving the community twice —both through the things they make and through service opportunities for seniors. 

“There are lots of needs out there and about the time you’ve got the gum put in the crack, then another need crops up,” Bartosh said, smiling. “I deal with anything senior — resources, advocacy, care-giver respite. Because the United Way supports us, we are able to enhance what we do.”

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