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United Way begins campaign, seeking $282,000 for agencies

Helen Ostby of Dickinson doesn't hesitate to make a donation to the United Way of Dickinson. After all, she served as its director for 18 years and takes advantage of one of the agencies.

As the director from 1985 to 2003, she said, "Those were such good years in my life and good years in the community. I believe we have more people now in greater need of assistance."

United Way is kicking off its 50th annual campaign by selling brats from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday at Dan's Supermarket. The theme is "50 years and Still Improving."

While life is good in southwestern North Dakota, Ostby said needs exist that are not evident.

"Too many people are unaware of the needs that exist and more importantly, the gifts the community receives from the agencies who benefit from United Way dollars," she said.

While the people of North Dakota pride themselves on being self-reliant and independent, Ostby said it's the collaborative efforts that make the community stronger.

As a retiree, Ostby and her husband appreciate the health maintenance services offered through Southwestern District Health. They've also used the Eldercare's home meal delivery.

"United Way is varied so that many people can be touched," she said. "I'm tickled to see the increase in the goal because we always had such huge requests and it was so sad to say this was the only amount we could give you."

Ostby misses meeting with the United Way board of directors and agency administrators.

"Under the exceptional leadership skills of the volunteer board of directors and hundreds of volunteers and generosity of donors, United Way continually seeks to help those in need," she said.

Kim Dressler served as United Way director from 2003 to 2007.

"I look back very fondly on those years," she said. "My daughter was at the age where she could help volunteer -- it's a tradition in our family that's carried over to my kids."

Dressler said a Fargo billboard will feature her daughter with the John Deere's commitment to United Way. It will be displayed near the dome in upcoming weeks.

"It makes me feel good as a parent -- that volunteering is something that has carried over to my children," she said.

Board President Scott Bullinger also sees the value of United Way.

"It allows several agencies to fundraise without competing against each other," he said. "United Way is a collective effort to raise funds for several worthy organizations in the community."

Bullinger will help serve brats during the campaign.

"If everybody gives a little, it builds up," he said. "Our goal is to fund next year's agency allocations, but the long-term goal would be to try to establish an endowment fund."

Sue Roller is this year's honorary chairperson -- a role of support to the campaign and willingness to speak to businesses about its mission.

She's helped in the past by distributing packets and serving as campaign chairperson.

"With the increase in our local population, the services are needed now more than ever," she said. "If we work together, we'll achieve great things."

Her family hasn't benefited directly from the agencies, but she references co-workers who have.

"For those new to the area it can be impossible to furnish an apartment -- I know House of Manna is a very popular place," she said.

United Way Executive Director Jill Gregoire said the 2012-13 campaign goal is $282,000.

"It's based on what the agencies need for the current year," she said. "If we don't meet the goal, it means reduced services."

Of the goal, less than 20 percent goes towards toward expenses -- from postage stamps and printing to the director's salary, she said.

The campaign is run by volunteers, from the board of directors to those who deliver the packets to employers.

Gregoire sees the United Way agencies as benefiting families at some point in their lives -- if not for themselves, then their relatives or neighbors. It could be the child who takes Red Cross swimming lessons, those who have experienced hunger or abuse, a home fire or a mentor.

"It's for our friends, our family and our neighbors," she said.

Gregoire, who took on the position seven years ago, said community support of United Way has been overwhelming.

"We live in a very supportive community-oriented area," she said. "People care about each other. When you need a helping hand, it is there."