Heartland United Way celebrated its 75th year

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Heartland United Way celebrated its 75th year on Thursday with a banquet and awards ceremony at Grand Island’s Riverside Golf Club.

The annual event follows nearly two years of meeting the needs of four counties in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic while continuing to support community programs and agencies.

“Heartland United Way truly seeks to be responsive during challenges of our community, but always adaptive to new needs as they emerge,” HUW President Karen Rathke said. “The last couple of years we’ve all had a lesson in adaptivity. Through the challenges of floods and COVID, we’ve learned new things about ourselves and our community.”

Rathke applauded the strength of community, shown by volunteers who stepped up to help in times of crises and through donations to the COVID Compassion Fund.

From COVID, too, HUW learned “we can do better,” Rathke said.

“We as a community were not positioned to connect with, communicate and meet the needs of our members,” she said. “We failed to communicate vital information in ways that met the linguistic and cultural challenges of our community. We have work to do to make our services more accessible, our community more welcoming and people more connected.”

HUW exceeded its fundraising goal of $1.5 million for 2022.

A total of $1,539,142 was raised, Hall County campaign chairpersons D.J. and Kathy Eihusen announced.

Rathke told The Independent she was “excited and honored” by the show of support from and for the community.

“When we originally set the goal, we knew it was going to be a challenging year with the pandemic and economic impact everything has had, but if we don’t reach for the stars we won’t hit it,” she said. “I believed in them, they believed in our community and the support we get so generously from people and I trusted it would happen.”

HUW volunteers and leaders were recognized Thursday.

Among the honorees:

- Mark and Jane Gloor, both retired educators, were honored for their longtime volunteerism with HUW’s Be the One Award.

Jane Gloor called the award “humbling.”

“Mark and I do this because we love giving back to our community, and really this was modeled for us by our parents, that you give back. That’s why we do it,” she said.

Mark Gloor said he and Jane don’t serve for the awards.

“We have a philosophy we live by: What you do for yourself dies with you. But what you do for others can live on,” he said.

- Diana Hast was recognized with HUW’s Live United Award for “logging more volunteer hours than anyone else on record.”

Receiving the award is “an honor,” Hast told The Independent.

“There’s a lot of people who have had this award before, and I just hope I can live up to it,” she said.

Hast said she loves serving and plans to continue to serve.

“It’s an amazing organization, and I see the things that come out of the money we raise, and I feel like when we raise money and I volunteer that I know it’s going to go to a good cause and it’s going to go to individuals who need it,” she said.

Funds raised by HUW go to serve many local efforts and agencies, including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Nebraska, Crisis Center, Heartland CASA, Hope Harbor and Literacy Council of Grand Island.

Gabriela Carrasco Favela spoke Thursday about how she benefitted from the adult education program, one of HUW’s community partners.

She told how her son had enlisted in the U.S. Army and that it inspired her to pursue her own dreams by improving her English and getting her GED.

“Sometimes you say, I want to do this, and if you don’t do it right away, then it goes away,” she said. “I went to the adult education program, and the people who work there really help you to trust in yourself because maybe you have what you need, but you need to trust in yourself.”

Her dream as a girl was to be a lawyer, she said.

“Now, that dream is awake again,” she said. “Thank you, because you are truly changing lives, and thank you, because if it wasn’t for you there would not be these places that people like me could go for help.”

Rathke told The Independent that being a part of HUW’s 75-year legacy and being able to help so many people was a great honor.

“I’m just very honored to be part of this strong tradition of our community helping people,” she said. “My almost 22 years here is a part of that 75, but it just keeps building from the very first board meeting, the very first campaign, the very first activity they did to volunteer and make a difference. It keeps growing, and I’m just grateful to be a part of it.”

-Written by Brandon Summers at The Grand Island Independent