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United Way puts its focus on helping kids succeed

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Set a goal, raise funds and then distribute funds through agencies in the community such as Hastings School District 200. For years, that was the focus of the United Way of Hastings, now almost 50 years old.

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While the organization still raises and allocates funds and helps in the community, the organization has taken much more of a proactive approach in the past several years.

"We still hold our annual appeal, which is the fundraising part," said United Way of Hastings Executive Director Mari Mellick. "But we are focusing on different things this year — our major focus is on Helping Kids Succeed, than what does the United Way do, and then what is the impact that the money has here."

The United Way of Hastings has changed over the years, Mellick noted. She pointed specifically to one of the programs it has helped through the years — Hastings Family Service. In recent years, the staff has sought answers as to why the people who used the agency, primarily, the food shelf, use it. Clients met with staff and, often have been helped in a number of ways such as budget handling, referral to the county and other helpful agencies.

"There is a change in focus there and here," said Mellick. "We do not just give money away."

The United Way's allocation committee, which meets at the beginning of the year, has initiated a proactive approach with the agencies it supports each year, said Mellick. Again, the question is, What impact are the allocated funds having?

"We want to be good stewards of the money which is donated and pledged to the United Way," said Mellick. "There has to be a checks and balances system."

The United Way of Hastings is an independent agency, separate from the Twin Cities organization. Several years ago, the board did discuss merging and decided to remain independent.

"We believed that if we were to become part of a larger United Way, our needs here would not be addressed," said Mellick. "Our needs are different than the Twin Cities."

The board still sets a goal, which is $300,000 again this year. The allocations committee makes the recommendation about how much to allocate each year. Last year about $100,000 was allocated to agencies which serve Hastings people. Through its process, the allocations committee often invites the agencies making request to come before it and "make their case," so to speak.

"We are the community fund," said Mellick. "We are working to help the kids succeed; we are working with youth."

That includes partnering with the City of Hastings, Hastings School District 200 and the George and Ruth Doffing Trust.

This year's official campaign kicks off Friday, Sept. 6, at Todd Field, the home opening night for the Hastings Raiders. The tailgate party begins at 5:30 p.m. with food and beverages available.

The guest speaker addresses the crowd at 6 p.m. A Hastings-oriented novelty item will be given away that evening.

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