Bristol family's story fuel's $700,000 United Way fund drive

MIDDLEBURY — The United Way of Addison County typically calls on people with extra resources to help bankroll its annual fund drive to aid local families who are less fortunate.

This year UWAC is getting a big assist from one of those less fortunate families as the organization seeks to raise $700,000 to help more than 2-dozen Addison County nonprofits that dispense food, clothing, counseling, transportation and other vital services to low-income residents.

Helping UWAC this year is a four-person family that recently settled in Bristol after having lost their home in Winooski this past December. Through a five-minute video and a UWAC brochure, the family recounts its journey from bone-chilling despair to a new lease on life made possible through determination and a helping hand from several county nonprofits, including John Graham Housing and Services in Vergennes.

“They made us feel welcome,” the family’s dad, Derek Sr., says gratefully during the United Way video, which can be seen on-ine at unitedwayaddisoncounty.org.

“It helps when you have people around you who accept you, and there’s no judgment,” he adds, as his voice wavers and tears fill his eyes.

Lori, the mom of the family, praised the Bristol-area after-school programs and local food shelves for helping the couple’s son and daughter stay well-grounded and fed. There are still times during the month when the larder is quite bare, but it’s something Lori said she has learned to deal with.

“I don’t mind going without, if the kids have enough,” she said.

Derek Sr. closes the interview expressing pride in his children and how they have learned to give back for the help they have received. His son, Derek Jr., recently received a youth service award from United Way.

“It starts with one step,” Derek Sr. said.

And the first step of the lengthy 2015 UWAC fund drive will begin this Thursday on the first of two “Days of Caring.” It is on these two days (Sept. 24 and 26) that volunteers from local businesses, nonprofits and area households will flock to various local social services agencies to help out. While painting, doing paperwork or running errands, the volunteers will get a first-hand sense of how those UWAC-supported agencies help the county’s less fortunate citizens.

UNIQUE CELEBRATION

Karen and Kyle James of Bristol will be among the “Days of Caring” volunteers, and it’s an experience that is likely to occupy a prominent place in their family photo album. You see, the Jameses are using “Days of Caring” as their wedding celebration. Instead of dancing and draining glasses of champagne, the couple and around 10 family members will be swigging water and scratching away at soil in Monkton in support of the Willowell Foundation.

“We like helping people,” Karen James explained. “We wanted to do something with our families that was meaningful.”

Karen James had previously participated in the Days of Caring, and enjoyed the experience. So when the subject of post-wedding festivities surfaced, she and Kyle decided to marry their celebration with the volunteer opportunity. They naturally will not be working in tuxes and gowns, and will go for a celebratory meal in Middlebury after putting down their shovels.

Meanwhile, Middlebury’s Mark and Donna Perrin will join UWAC staff in doing a lot of the heavy lifting for the 2015 campaign. The Perrins, co-owners of Green Peppers Restaurant, will co-chair the campaign. They are longtime supporters (since the early 1980s) of the United Way, so taking a leadership role is something they felt very confident in doing.

“It’s hard to say ‘no’ when the United Way comes knocking,” Mark Perrin, a longtime UD-3 school board member and former ID-4 school board member, said with a smile.

During the course of the next four months, the Perrins will explain the United Way’s role, the advantages of volunteering, and the notion that any donation, no matter what the size, will help.

“What Donna and I are trying to do is make people aware of what the United Way is about, and how much its tentacles reach out — not only programs that are there, but the need for the money and how they share it with their agencies,” Mark Perrin said.

And it takes many agencies, often working together, to make sure those in need get on the path to self-sufficiency, according to Nancy Luke, UWAC’s manager of development and marketing.

“There are a lot of wonderful organizations in this county, but no one organization can solve all the problems a family has,” Luke said.

Each year, those local organizations submit funding requests to the United Way that add up to $1 million, noted UWAC Executive Director Kate McGowan. But the economy and competing philanthropic causes have added up to annual donation yields more in the $700,000-range, and UWAC has set its 2015 goal accordingly — at $700,000.

Last year, the local United Way received $685,000 toward a goal of $720,000.

McGowan, Luke and the Perrins are optimistic that this year’s $700,000 goal is within reach. They will be making the rounds to prospective donors — including corporate sponsors — to maximize receipts.

“Our goal is to add at least three more payroll campaigns,” said McGowan, referring to the process by which employees of area companies can agree to deduct a set amount from their paychecks to benefit the UWAC fund drive.

Gaining some additional payroll participants will be especially important this year, as GlobalFoundries (formerly IBM) has announced it will not be able to guarantee its usual participation in the statewide United Way campaign, according to McGowan. That is expected to affect the UWAC drive to the tune of around $7,000, according to Luke.

Along with writing letters and making phone calls, the organization will sponsor some familiar fundraising events. Along with the Days of Caring, there will be “Dine the United Way.” Throughout October and November, several county restaurants will be pledging a portion of their profits to the UWAC campaign. A list of those restaurants can be found at www.unitedwayaddisoncounty.org.

A “Spin United” stationary biking event will also be held this winter, along with a Middlebury College football raffle. Details on these and other events will come later.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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