United Way putting faces up front

Organization hoping to get back to basics and show people how their donations benefit the community

Faces will replace figures as the focal point for the upcoming United Way campaign starting next month.

According to Marla O’Brien, United Way executive director for the Central and South Okanagan Similkameen, the change is intended to increase participation at all levels.

“For a long time United Way used that big dollar goal and thermometer style to inspire people to give,” said O’Brien. “But with that, I think the impact of the work we do in the community kind of got lost and we want to put the focus back on the real reason we exist: to make the community a better place.

“Sometimes when the focus is on dollar figures, big numbers get bandied about and I’ve heard people say, ‘Well, maybe my $5 or $10 doesn’t make any difference and it’s not even worth it,’ but I think everybody’s participation does make a difference.”

One way the organization already puts faces to the work it does is the annual Seeing is Believing bus tour of some of the local agencies it supports.

The tour took representatives of groups which help fund the United Way to visit several city locations, including the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club and Unity House, operated by the Canadian Mental Health Association.

“It is these kinds of things where people from those organizations talk about what they do and the difference they make in people’s lives,” said the executive director. “At Unity house I saw lots of tears all around the room because there’s so many people who can relate to it.”

O’Brien added her organization is not just about helping individuals living in poverty, the programs are broader and more far reaching.

“You would be hard pressed not to find anyone who has benefited from United Way at some point in their lives by the initiatives we fund,” she said.

Something new for the local campaign this time around is the Day of Caring, during which the United Way matches a specific business or groups of volunteers with an organization in need.

“This once again brings home the human aspect in getting people out there to help other people,” said O’Brien.

“At the end of the day, they come away with a good feeling, it’s great for team building and everyone benefits.”

Something else she is looking forward to is the second annual drive-through breakfast at the Lakeside Resort.

The 2012 event raised over $8,000 and with fundraising initiatives like the one recently announced by Skaha Ford and Penticton Kia, to be donated at this year’s breakfast, she believes that amount could increase substantially.

“The groups we support do so much with so little and the impact can be double or three-fold with a little bit more investment,” said O’Brien.

The new campaign officially begins Sept. 26 with a kickoff breakfast at the Penticton Ramada Inn and Suites.