By Lindsey Ziliak
---- — The United Way of Howard County announced Wednesday that it has raised $1.37 million in its annual campaign with a month left to reach the $2 million goal.
The organization is about two-thirds of the way there – a figure that encouraged Abbie Smith, United Way director.
“We’re right where we should be,” she told a group gathered at Community Howard Specialty Hospital Wednesday afternoon.
She warned she’d be giving the bare-bones, acoustic version of her intended presentation because … well, she’s been a little distracted with other things happening in the community, like a tornado.
Someone recently asked her how the United Way is involved in disaster relief, she said.
She compared the community to a 5,000-piece puzzle on a card table in grandma’s house. In that scenario, the United Way is grandma, trying to make the intricate pieces fit together.
Only the United Way faces challenges that grandma doesn’t, Smith said.
“There are no boundaries on the community puzzle,” she said. “There are sometimes missing or misshapen pieces. There is no perfect picture.”
Still, the United Way works to piece the puzzle together by setting up a framework that will lead to a more educated, healthier and financially stable community.
The United Way funds organizations like the Mental Health Association, Literacy Coalition of Howard County and the volunteer income tax assistance program. And these organizations form the edges of the puzzle that hold the community together, Smith said. The edges keep it stable.
Then, along comes your cousin’s bratty kid who sweeps his hands across the puzzle and breaks the pieces apart, Smith said.
“Let’s call him flood or tornado,” she said. “He messes it all up. You’re sad. You’re angry, but we’ve got this.”
It takes donors and advocates to get through a flood or a tornado. Those people are organized by the United Way from its existing framework — its network.
People have donated countless hours of their time and money from their wallets to help pull the city back together, Smith said.
But even as the city recovers, there will be other crises. Families will battle hunger or need medical procedures they can’t pay for.
“Then we remember a little more clearly why we do what we do,” Smith said.
The tornado is a reminder of just how important the United Way campaign is each year, she said.
Others at the lunch knew this.
When donated gym memberships, handbags and hair products were auctioned off for the campaign, people pulled out their wallets.
Two men fought over a bottle of some type of hair product. The winner paid $55 for it.
Some local businesses are still collecting donations from their employees. Haynes International, though, has already tallied its totals.
Between its employee contributions and corporate gifts, it will be donating $186,804.50 to United Way, said Vice President and CIO Jeff Young.
He said those who read the newspaper have probably seen Haynes’ earnings for the year.
“Haynes didn’t have a record year, but we had a good year,” he said. “Whether we have a good year or a bad year, we give.”
Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune Life & Style editor, can be reached at 765-454-8585, at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @LindseyZiliak.