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OPINION: Special bond forges Meriden and Wallingford United Way

OPINION: Special bond forges Meriden and Wallingford United Way

The Meriden and Wallingford communities share a special bond — the United Way. Last year, Forbes Magazine rated the United Way Worldwide as the best charity in the country. Not only is it the largest, but it uniquely delivers the most efficient services at the least administrative costs of any charity (96 percent of funds raised stay in Meriden/Wallingford; 1 percent funds the 211 resource hot-line, and 3 percent goes to United Way Worldwide).

The United Way accomplished this rating by utilizing a corps of community volunteers who are local business and community leaders. They serve on the board of directors, volunteer for fundraising events, serve on allocation committees, and assist with the annual campaign.

Since the merger of the Meriden and Wallingford communities in 1971, our two communities have raised millions of dollars to help those in need by supporting family financial stability, education, and health for children, families and seniors.

I have been privileged to serve on our talented board of directors for the past four years and am proud to serve as annual campaign chairman for the second year.

Our annual fundraising campaign is the backbone of our funding effort and we are pleased to have numerous businesses, organizations and individuals who give generously each year to support 26 service programs offered by 20 nonprofit agencies in Meriden and Wallingford.

Two full-time executives head up the United Way — executive director Marie Campos Harlow and Diana Reilly, associate director. Each brings an unparalleled passion and enthusiasm to their staff roles.

The three of us recently did a presentation to the UPS Freight terminal in Wallingford. Rick Sisco, the service center manager, called his drivers together for our presentation about the great work the United Way does in both communities. After our presentation, Rick took over and said to his crew “Each of you have good paying jobs and I am asking you to consider others who are not as fortunate and need our help. I ask each of you to pledge a few dollars a week from each paycheck for a great cause”.  UPS has been one of our top giving companies thanks to the generosity of their employees and Rick’s enthusiastic leadership.

In addition to the Meriden and Wallingford Annual United Way Campaign, we host one major event — NFL Players Weekend. This has been the brainchild of Joe Linta, NFL Agent, made possible by Joe’s extraordinary leadership and generosity. Each year, Joe brings together NFL players and collegiate football stars for a weekend of fundraising, instruction clinics, and recreation activities for youngsters from both communities. This annual sell-out event is the highlight of the year for the United Way not only raising important funds but offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the youngsters to personally interact with professional and collegiate players. They not only learn football skills but also spend some fun time bowling together. Joe Linta is a true United Way hero for making this event possible.

Another offering of the United Way is the Annual Day of Caring where companies provide employees who volunteer their time to do much-needed jobs at nonprofit agencies like painting, repairs, and other duties. The volunteers not only get a chance to roll up their sleeves but also see first-hand the agencies that provide the services funded by the United Way for children and families. 

Finally, the Meriden and Wallingford United Way has holiday giving programs to assist families in need and to help out in emergency situations that may arise as well.

Currently, the United Way is undertaking a professionally guided strategic plan to take stock of our accomplishments and strengths and assess future opportunities to continue our strong positive presence in both communities. We are engaging community leaders and influencers, nonprofit leaders, and the wider community to get their feedback and insights. This effort is to make sure that United Way is maximizing the greatest impact and focus on the most critical community needs.

Next week, the Meriden and Wallingford United Way hosts the Annual Campaign Kickoff event on Thursday, Sept. 12, 5 to 7 p.m., at the Augusta Curtis Cultural Center, 175 E. Main St., Meriden.  Please join us and help us get off to a great campaign start.

Michael S. Rohde is a former mayor and city councilor of Meriden.