Building "4" Our Kids Future

July 23, 2017
United Way of Miami County kicked off its annual fundraising campaign on Monday with the theme – “Building ‘4’ Our Kids Future” – that emphasizes the importance of preparing children and young adults for the next steps of their lives. 
And every dollar that can help make the effort a success counts, according to Debi Wallick, the organization’s executive director. 
 “People think that $5 doesn’t make a difference,” Wallick said. “But, you know what? We have 13,000 people just in Peru … if even half of those people give $5, what an impact that would make in this community.”
Nine agencies will receive funds from United Way’s 2017 campaign: American Red Cross, Boy Scouts Sagamore Council, Kiwanis Club of Peru, Family Service Association Domestic Violence Shelter, Miami County Child Abuse Prevention Council, The Salvation Army, Services for Visual and Hearing Impaired, the YMCA and the YMCA transit. These agencies will then use their donations to help United Way accomplish it’s specific campaign initiatives – strategies that vary on an annual basis. This year’s focus? Education. 
“Every year, nearly one million U.S. students fail to graduate high school on time. That’s one in four students,” Wallick wrote in a press release. “Dropouts are typically years in the making. Academic difficulties in the early years too often lead to disengagement from school and eventual dropout.” 
Through Miami County’s “Imagination Library,” a program created by entertainer Dolly Parton, United Way hopes to prepare youth for the early stages of school and also encourage parents to spend time reading with their kids. 
Since 2009, any child that’s born at Dukes Memorial Hospital receives a free book every month until they turn 5 -- with the parent’s consent. Children who participated in the Imagination Library had a literacy improvement of 77 percent entering kindergarten and had a 57 percent improvement in social, emotional and cognitive skills. 
“It’s a wonderful program, and we want to be able to continue to support it,” Wallick said. “We want to make sure kids are successful by the time they get in kindergarten, and they’re prepared to read. A lot of times we have seen that children don’t even know how to open up a book. They’ll open it upside down.” 
Through the Miami County College Success Coalition, any senior at Peru, Maconaquah or North Miami high schools can have their ACT or SAT testing or one college application paid for. ACTs and SATs usually costs about $75 each, Wallick said, while a college app can be upwards of $100. 
The Miami County Child Abuse Prevention Council, a social service in Peru, will help educate youth on issues such as bullying in all three elementary schools, and the Family Service Association Domestic Violence Program will teach about teen dating violence and empathy building, among others. It’s all about building a sustainable future, Wallick said. 
“You always have to look ahead – you can’t look behind,” she said. “We’re always looking to build on what we’ve already started, and the future of kids and students to make sure that they’re thriving …We want them to succeed and eventually, we hope, they’ll come back to our community and be thriving individuals and take over for those that retire – that’s the goal.” 
United Way sent out about 960 campaign packets on Monday to every business, organization and sorority in the county – and more are still going to be distributed, Wallick said. Individuals and retirees in the United Way database will receive a personalized letter in their mailbox. 
The packets contain information on this year’s campaign and provides a detailed explanation of how just a couple bucks can help those in need. A pledge form is also included in the packet, so donors can select which agency they’d like to support and how that money will be spent. There’s also the options to either pay now, be billed later or take it as a payroll deduction. 
If you don’t receive a packet, or know you aren’t in United Way’s database, you can call the organization at 765-473-4240, and they’ll send you one. 
This year’s campaign is also the first time since it was created in 1957 that United Way of Miami County didn’t set a financial goal. Despite reaching them the last four years, the organization wanted to focus on outcomes and not on financial revenue, Wallick said. 
“By showing the outcomes, I think it’s going to let the community know we need to focus on something different than a dollar figure,” she said. 
Wallick said that when people donate straight to an agency, often they never learn where their money is actually spent. But, United Way will provide reports that agencies are required to give them. It’s accountability for your donor dollars, she said, and they’ll identify tangible results your money helped accomplish in as much detail as possible -- for example, how many kids were fed or received books. 
All funds stay within Miami County, too, which is something Wallick also wants people to know.  The fundraising campaign runs through Dec. 31, and every little bit counts. 
 “Five dollars, $1, .50 cents,” Wallick said. “It all helps.”