Heartland United Way celebrates community successes over pandemic

Heartland United Way celebrates community successes over pandemic
Campaign raised over $1 million in 2020

Brandon Summers | Grand Island Independent

The heroes of the Grand Island area and their deeds were honored Wednesday at Heartland United Way’s 74th annual meeting, which was held online.

Karen Rathke, the agency’s executive director, reflected on a year “that was so difficult for many” and thanked and celebrated “a year of heroic efforts” on the part of the community.

“In many ways, it has been a year we want to forget, but in more ways than not it has been a year to remember,” Rathke said. “A year full of compassion, hard work and a whole lot of local love shared.”

To honor the community’s achievement, Heartland United Way presented its 2020 Live United and Be the One Awards, individually and together, to every person and helping agency.

This includes medical facilities, schools, churches, businesses and all volunteers.

“(These awards) are presented to all of you for your heroic COVID-19 community response and relief efforts,” Rathke said. “Thank you to each and every effort, and each and every person.”

It also announced the results of its 2020 capital campaign.

The nonprofit received $1,320,824 in donations, said Jayne Smith, 2020 campaign co-chair. Jayne and Dennis Smith led the Hall County efforts, while Tia Jerabek was chair in Howard County, Kurt Johnson in Hamilton County and Jordan Fischer and Chelsie Paup in Merrick County.

A total of 409 donors contributed at least $500 each, for $543,945.45, including donations from 69 new members.

Smith called them “a tremendous group of contributors.”

Donating $10,000 or more each were Meta Armstrong; Tom and Kim Dinsdale; Lynn Dinsdale Marchese; Sherry Marshall; Dan Naranjo; Tom and Sue Pirnie; and one anonymous donor.

“We would like to extend a sincere thank you to all of you for your support, your hard work, your resiliency and most importantly your local love,” Rathke said.

Heartland United Way has been “responding to local needs and society’s most pressing problems for over 75 years in Hall, Hamilton, Merrick and Howard counties,” she said.

Rathke said 2020 was “unlike any year that we have experienced” and COVID-19 “was unlike any challenge we could have imagined.”

“But, we were up for it,” she said. “We were built for this, by strong community leaders beginning in 1947, who had the vision of a United Way helping and sharing local love.”

Before the pandemic, there was also the severe floods of 2019, Rathke noted.

“The incredibly generous support of the community provided us with the opportunity to be ready to respond and to help bring hope to people who need it most,” she said.

The continuing work of helping communities recover “is the very work Heartland United Way does every day,” Rathke said.

“We help feed those facing food insecurity. We prepare children for success, school, work and life. We connect those in financial distress with resources to pay bills and stay in their homes,” she said.

As such crises continue and needs become more urgent, the United Way’s services become more vital, Rathke said, and the need for local support “more essential.”

With disaster response partners, Heartland United Way brought agencies together in 2020 to address area needs through communication and collaboration.

“Since that first meeting,” Rathke said, “we’ve been actively involved with preventing, preparing and responding to COVID-19 by coordinating weekly communitywide meetings.”

The agency also has helped distribute personal protective equipment and sterilizing materials to schools, nonprofits and churches, provided educational materials to students while schools were closed, and directed food to pantries and local agencies.

It also provided 664 households with $429,235 in financial assistance.

This includes $39,292 for health needs, $266,431 for rent, $95,135 for utilities and $5,170 for food.

For more information about Heartland United Way services, visit heartlandunitedway.org.