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United Way optimistic for donation boost

Published: Friday, Jan. 10, 2014 12:05 a.m. CDT
(Sarah Nader –
Second-graders Nicky Williams (left), 8, and John Leaks, 8, both of Oakwood Hills, play with blocks while at an after-school program supported with United Way funds at Prairie Grove Elementary School in Crystal Lake on Wednesday.

CRYSTAL LAKE – The season of giving was not as kind to the United Way of Greater McHenry County as it has been in the past, with donations lagging behind last year's numbers to date.

Steve Otten, executive director of the county's United Way branch, said exact numbers are not known, but he said the organization is not on pace to reach the $1.5 million campaign it kicked off in September. While it has been a slow start, Otten said he is optimistic the goal will be met by the June 30 deadline.

"In this economy, I think people are still very, very cautious with where they are donating their money," Otten said. "We're realistic of where we are at and how we are doing, but it's a manageable goal and I'm still cautiously optimistic we'll meet it."

Twenty-seven local agencies benefit from the United Way of Greater McHenry County, with one in four county residents directly helped from those services. Otten said the organization's local focus and broad reach to help people with a variety of needs sets it apart from other organizations.

"The real sweet spot for United Way is being able to take small donations and put them all together for big dollars that stay in the county," Otten said. "We can help people who do not know where to give because chances are they know someone who benefits from one of the programs we fund."

Organizations such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters of McHenry County rely heavily on the funding received from United Way. Josh Baker, executive director for the county's Big Brothers, Big Sisters, said United Way provides roughly one-fifth of the agency's $500,000 budget.

"United Way has been very good for our agency," Baker said. "The funding has stabilized a bit here in the past couple years with the current state of giving, but everyone looks at it with hopes it will expand in the future."

Karen Moses, chairwoman for United Way's campaign, said outreach efforts have increased this year and more businesses are involved in campaigns. She said United Way has also got its name in the community more with the Dial 2-1-1 service – a 24-hour hotline that directs people to the agencies that meet their needs.

Moses said the top priority is educating the public about what United Way does. She said many people know the name but do not know the role it plays in the community – a problem she had before becoming heavily involved with the organization.

"I made certain assumptions about United Way myself, and I have to admit I would struggle with putting a definition behind it," Moses said of her time before volunteering with the group. "We really need to articulate a clear message. We have a long way to go in our community."

Those interested in donating can visit for more information.

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