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PUBLISHED: 10:22 AM on Tuesday, September 5, 2006
Time to take care of our neighbors

If I've learned anything about southeast Alaskans in my few years in this great land, it's that we are ready to pitch in to help a neighbor in need, any where, any time.

After all, tomorrow we might be the one in need.

Inside today's Capital City Weekly you'll find the 2006 Annual Report for the United Way of Southeast Alaska.

The United Way plays a very big part in taking care of our neighbors.

It is the central agency for gathering contributions, and then distributing them to 37 partner area agencies that work with people with a wide variety of needs.

These agencies provide the saviors, the cooks and hand holders, the angels you never see until you need them.

They usually work without adequate resources, using wit, energy and dedication to do more with less.

They are heavily dependent on volunteers to care for our neighbors most in need - the elderly, the abused, the addicted and the victims - through agencies as diverse as AWARE, the Red Cross, Helping Hands, Cancer Connection, SAIL/ORCA, SAGA, The Glory Hole and the Food Bank.

United Way also helps one of our most valuable resources, our young people, through agencies like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and Big Brothers Big Sisters.

With a twist of fate, a run of bad luck, a cruel diagnosis, an accident or calamity, they could be taking care of you or me.

This year's United Way campaign starts Sept. 14 and runs through November.

The interim campaign director is Christy Bergman and volunteer campaign chairman is Win Gruening of Key Bank.

The campaign that is focused on increasing the number of participating donors, kicks off with a celebration and social at Juneau's Glacier Gardens, including refreshments, entertainment and recognition of this year's United Way Volunteer of the Year, Ruth Johnson.

I've always believed that taking care of our own is the best reason to contribute to the United Way.

"First of all, the money stays local," said Kristin Mahle, United Way interim president. "We are local and 99 percent of what is given here stays here. That can be misunderstood, since we have the national name. Maybe we're like McDonald's-we've got a big name, but we are locally run and operated.

"One in three people will use a United Way partner agency in their lifetime. That's important to note, especially in a community the size of the Southeast."

The United Way gathers funds from many hundreds of donors and distributes the funds to the agencies. Donors can choose to contribute to a single organization, or allow the United Way go distribute among the member agencies through their annual grants.

"We've found that if people give through payroll deductions, they will give about six times more than if they just write a check. So that's another advantage, to be able to give more," Mahle said.

Donors can make a bigger impact if their employers have a corporate matching program - contributing an amount to match an employee's contribution.

The United Way is a regional force in Southeast Alaska, reaching into all of our communities.

"We have a board of 14 local people from all over Southeast Alaska, not just Juneau," she said. "Thanks to a grant from the Rasmussen Foundation, this year the United Way was able to add a new associate director, Keith Smith, in Ketchikan. Having more local staff in area communities is important to the campaign."

A key part of the local United Way's current vitality and growth began with former President Jodi Kilcup, who moved back "Down South" in the spring. Kilcup set a higher vision in place for the United Way here that will continue for years to come.

For example, last year the United Way, with the help of the McDowell Group, conducted a series of Compass meetings, to get input from local citizens on the communities on what were the biggest concerns to local citizens.

Affordable housing is a major issue. There are so many facets to that - from retirees who can't afford to downsize, to people in poverty with no place to go.

Groups as diverse as the Juneau Homeless Coalition and the Juneau City Assembly are using The McDowell research to make specific plans in the community. They are also tackling other issues involving kids, drug and alcohol abuse.

While United Way campaign volunteers will be visiting most area companies in the coming weeks, you can also learn more about how to contribute, at www.unitedwayseak.org. There's also complete information on all the United Way member agencies at that site. Or call the United Way office at 907-463-5530 or e-mail campaign@unitedwayseak.org.

I encourage you to reach deep, in your pocket and in your heart, and give generously to the United Way this fall.

Leschper is general manager of the Capital City Weekly and advertising director of the Juneau Empire. Email him at lee.leschper@juneauempire.com.


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