More ‘generous hearts’ required to help United Way campaign

As local agencies struggle to find funds to provide human care services, there is a growing recognition of the importance of the United Way.

After eight weeks of campaigning, the United Way has reached half of its $2 million goal.

“The United Way is the single largest source of stable funding in Central Alberta outside the government,” says Lars Rogers, the 2010 Campaign Chair. Rogers notes that one in three people in Central Alberta need help through services provided by the United Way.

Local agencies, daunted by fundraising prospects in the coming year, expect the government to cut funding by 10%, beyond the $5.1 million hit the non-profit sector took in 2009 due to the loss of the Wildrose Foundation, officials say.

To compound the problem, private donations are decreasing while client needs are on the rise.

With increased need for services, agencies like the Safe Harbour Society for Health and Housing feel the friction between the need to fundraise and their mandate to provide services. Safe Harbour depends on the United Way for 4% of its annual budget.

“Our job is the frontline work, making sure agencies are running,” says Tricia Haggarty, director of business and development for Safe Harbour.

“We spend our time recruiting and training, not looking for money. The bottom line is that individuals accessing services have longer line up and the needs have not gone away.”

Heather Gardiner, CEO of the United Way of Central Alberta, has started to notice an alarming trend — workers at agencies providing services are starting to need the services themselves as they cope with the stress from recession.

“We need a bigger response than we’ve ever seen before,” she says.

Gardiner cautions, however that “If we just throw money at this, it’s not going to change. We need to throw passion. There is no choice but for us to ask everyone to help.”

Funds raised include helping eight clients who have been sexually, emotionally or physically abused receive short-term individualized counselling and preventing 15 people from being evicted from their homes.

“All of this has been done with only $50,000,” says Rogers, results that are “but a fraction of what local agencies are doing each and every day with funds received through the United Way.”

Gardiner insists that the story of human care in Central Alberta is about people, not dollars. Considering the needs of the most vulnerable people in the community, Gardiner says, “We are compelled to ask everyone to open up their hearts and say, ‘I care.’ We can’t go into Christmas without doing that.”

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