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$2.5M sought via 2017 Community Campaign

Marie Havenga • Sep 22, 2017 at 3:00 PM

As more than 700 volunteers roamed Ottawa County Thursday, working on more than 50 projects for those in need — everything from landscaping to fix-ups – there's more at stake then what helpful hands can accomplish in one day.

The United Way announced Thursday at a luncheon for 16th annual Day of Caring volunteers, it's 2017 Community Campaign goal – $2.5 million.

Last year, the non-profit organization raised about $2.3 million in its annual campaign, which runs through March.

Money raised goes toward improving the education, financial stability, health and basic needs of people in the county.

The donations are pumped into 56 programs run by 42 local non-profit agencies, as well as United Way programs such as the Lakeshore Housing Alliance and a free tax preparation program.

Patrick Moran, president of the Greater Ottawa County United Way, said his organization conducts a community assessment every three years to determine area needs.

“We have seen shifts,” Moran said. “There are big things like education, financial stability, health and basic needs. But five years ago we were not having an opioid problem. At that point, we were talking about gang violence, something that has faded away. Five years ago we knew we had a housing problem, so we're investing a fair amount of resources there.”

But then it became clear that it was not only a housing problem, but a housing crisis, so United Way stepped to the plate to try to welcome everyone to the affordable housing ballpark.

“Right now, we have eight pots of funding for housing,” Moran said, adding that $1.2 million a year is invested through federal and state grants.

The Community Campaign doesn’t contribute to housing, but the United Way does pump about $250,000 into areas such as housing, rent assistance, winterization and utility assistance.

“What we've found is that what we're doing is necessary but not sufficient,” Moran said. “We need to do more, which is why we separate this from the campaign.”

Mark and Lori Wilson of Hudsonville are serving as the 2017-18 campaign managers. The Wilsons said they’re confident that by engaging new and current donors, they will reach their goals.

“Mark and I believe that when you reach out a hand to one, you influence the condition of all,” Lori said.

Through leveraging, matches and grants, every dollar donated to United Way brings $3.70 in community benefit.

Nearly 200 companies throughout the county run a workplace campaign so employees can choose to have donations automatically deducted from their paychecks. Many offer matches, which can almost double what those donations can provide.

Donors can become eligible for the “Two Tickets to Paradise” drawing. New donors who pledge $1 a week or current donors who increase their pledge by $1 per week will be entered into a drawing for an all-inclusive, four-night stay in the Caribbean, including airfare.

To make a donation, volunteer or learn more about the organizations that the United Way helps, visit www.OttawaUnitedWay.org.

Unless you specify otherwise, the gifts stay local, directly helping approximately 25 percent of Ottawa County residents.

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