United Way kicks off annual campaign

ST. JOSEPH — United Way of Southwest Michigan finds itself focusing on what it does for the community rather than on a dollar amount, for the second campaign in a row.

The nonprofit agency that serves Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties kicked off its annual campaign Monday with the emphasis on celebrating its local impact and encouraging people to get involved in their communities.

UWSWM set a similar goal last year, but still raised a record amount of money: $4.28 million.

Monday’s kick off was in conjunction with other United Ways across Michigan.

Michael Larson, president and chief executive officer of the Michigan Association of United Ways (MAUW), said in a news release that this “Unified Kickoff” allowed United Ways of all sizes to spotlight their local impact on a state-wide stage through advertising, social media and a website, letsliveunited.org.

“Whether locally, regionally, or across Michigan, United Way plays a unique role in bringing together the people, ideas, and resources needed to tackle the toughest issues,” Larson said. “By sharing our stories, we grow together and show how our work is improving life for all people across Michigan.”

UWSWM President Anna Murphy said that while the weeklong kickoff is statewide, funds raised locally will stay local.

“Our message this week is about celebrating our collective impact while focusing on how we change lives for the better right here in Southwest Michigan,” she said.

For the third year in a row, United Way of Southwest Michigan has partnered with Tyler Automotive to provide a car challenge to kick off the campaign.

Donors who give $156 are automatically entered into a drawing to win a two-year lease on a sub-compact vehicle from Tyler Automotive. For every additional $100 contributed, donors receive an additional entry into the drawing. 

Ten finalists are selected, and the 2019 winner will be announced in February 2020 at Tyler Automotive in Stevensville.

The automatic entry of $156, which equates to $3 a week, is enough money to provide 34 meals to someone dealing with food insecurity, two months of support to help a young child learn to read, one free book for a child every month for five years, school supplies for eight kids to start the school year, or support for two individuals to address their mental health, according to UWSWM.

Larson said the Unified Kickoff adds no additional cost to participating United Ways and actually increases visibility for smaller United Ways that may not have resources for extensive marketing.

The effort came from a dialogue four years ago between MAUW, Capital Area United Way, United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region, United Way of Jackson County and United Way of Southwest Michigan.

“United Way connects and mobilizes all sectors in a community to create lasting change that produces healthy, educated, and financially stable individuals and families,” Larson said. “We’re thrilled to tell that story to every person in Michigan.”  

Contact: anewman@TheHP.com, 932-0357, Twitter: @HPANewman