United Way sets $5.8 million fundraising goal

It represents a decrease from the 2019 ask of $6 million.

The focus of the 2020 campaign is area homelessness, which several speakers highlighted at the hybrid in-person and virtual kick off event, live-streamed from the Avalon Events Center, 2525 9th Ave. S.

It’s been important to find genuine and authentic ways to connect with the community this year, said Kristi Huber, United Way president and CEO, especially because daily routines have changed dramatically over the last six months.

Huber said area homelessness would be the spotlight of this year’s United Way campaign.

“This is such an important topic,” Huber said, “because it’s an easy one to ignore. Especially when all of us have been working a little bit closer to home.”

While it might surprise many people, Huber said, on any given night more than 1,000 people are homeless in the community.

“Some of these families have experienced things that your family has also experienced,” Huber said. “A serious illness, a mental health crisis, maybe the unexpected loss of a job.”

United Way Resource Development Director Christie Lewandoski, Vice President of Community Impact Thomas Hill, Campaign Chair Chris Barta, and volunteer Rami Olson also spoke at the event.

Kick off guest speakers Sarah Kennedy, Presentation Partners diversion program director, and Fargo Public Schools Homeless Liaison Jan Anderson presented harrowing statistics of homelessness in the Cass-Clay county areas.

Anderson, who’s been in her position for 13 years, said some students live in cars, tents, or sleep in apartment hallways, and worry all day about where they’ll end up when their school day is over, or even if they can get to school on any given day.

“Usually, before we even start school, we have 60 to 70 kids that are self-referred and are identified as homeless,” Anderson said.

At 2019’s end, she said, 237 kids were identified as having experienced homelessness throughout the year.

Kennedy, who has worked for 15 years with families who are in a housing crisis, said the emphasis needs to be shifted from management to prevention.

“We know that no one agency can end homelessness alone, and so we do this work in partnership with a lot of United Way partners, a lot of agencies in our community,” Kennedy said.

Each week 80 to 100 applications from families in crisis are reviewed.

“We have the very tough job of trying to figure out which of those households we have the resources to provide assistance for,” Kennedy said.

The need for the $5.8 million was perhaps best expressed by Hill, who took the opportunity to give an overview of the stress and trauma of the “vicious cycle” of spiraling circumstances that can lead a family into homelessness.

“Children who experience homelessness as a child are more likely to experience homelessness as an adult,” Hill said. “And, again, the cycle just continues.”

Hill called for the community to unite to provide support for those in need.

“The solution, honestly, is as simple as providing the right help at the right time,” Hill said. “And we can do that.”

For more information, or to make a donation, visit www.unitedwaycassclay.org

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