United Way kickoff

Give, advocate or volunteer. Better yet, do all three.

United Way of Dane County is taking a new approach this year to giving back to our community. Yes, it will still conduct its annual workplace fundraising drive, where employees sign up to contribute to the organization directly from their paychecks. But United Way is making year-round volunteerism — what they are calling Seasons of Caring — the focus of this year's effort. And to get it off to a great start, they are launching their campaign with what they hope will be the single largest volunteer project ever in Dane County.

United Way is looking for 500 community-minded people to come together Tuesday, Aug. 22, from 4-6:30 p.m. at the Madison Mallards Duck Pond. Attendees can roll up their sleeves and participate in one of several projects, including labeling canned food and bags for Second Harvest, labeling medication disposal bags and decorating Meals on Wheels bags. People are encouraged to donate gently used professional clothing and new personal grooming and toiletry items, which will be distributed at United Way's Jobs Readiness Fair Aug. 24.

It will be good fun as well as good work — with dinner provided by the Mallards, free T-shirts, and many family activities. It will happen rain or shine. 

The Aug. 24 Jobs Readiness Fair, where the clothing and toiletry items collected Aug. 22 will be distributed, will be at The Village on Park, 2300 S. Park St., from 2 to 7 p.m. Those seeking employment can get help writing resumes, learning interview techniques and getting financial advice.

To help citizens help others all year around, United Way's website hosts a portal where any Dane County nonprofit can post its needs for volunteers. Volunteeryourtime.org has roughly 600 opportunities listed, everything from helping groups write grants, to caring for horses that serve vulnerable populations, to mowing seniors' lawns, to photographing events, to maintaining the Lakeshore Nature Preserve.

On social media, you can access information about volunteer opportunities @unitedwaydaneco, #GiveUnited or #powerofmany.

United Way hopes everyone, from millennials to retirees, will get involved in community volunteer activities. Their goal is to enlist 1,000 person-hours per week on projects in Dane County all year long. In a year, they estimate, that amount of person power will provide a $1.2 million boost to Dane County, based on a volunteer hour being valued at about $24. 

And citizens' efforts are much needed. One in eight people in Dane County lives in poverty. Tens of thousands more live from paycheck to paycheck. United Way's ongoing programs in education, financial stability and health are all focused on addressing those distressing statistics. That's where your financial contribution as well as contribution of time comes in.

Here are just a few examples of how United Way is helping:

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In 2016 alone, 574 people living in poverty found employment through UW's HIRE Education Employment Initiative. But 9,423 Dane County residents are still unemployed, including almost 17 percent of the African-American community. This program needs $300,000 in funding in 2017.

The organization's Housing First program placed 208 families in stable housing — but another 300 families are still homeless. An additional $1.8 million and more affordable housing could put those families on a path to financial stability.

Over 3,500 students were tutored in four Dane County school districts, but there are 13,800 more who need help in 16 districts, and $4.1 million is needed to reach them and help them graduate.

The 2017 campaign chair, CUNA Mutual Group's president and CEO Bob Trunzo, along with United Way of Dane County president and CEO Renee Moe, will talk about United Way's plans for 2017 at the Aug. 22 launch. The event at the Mallards Duck Pond, 2920 N. Sherman Ave., is presented by BMO Harris Bank and the American Family Insurance Dreams Foundation. 

Register for it at unitedwaydanecounty.org/kickoff

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