By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — The United Way of Greater Niagara celebrated another successful another successful year, announcing that it has surpassed its fundraising goal by raising $1,279,786 during its Community Care Campaign.
Volunteers and representatives from partner organizations gathered at the Shawnee Fire Hall in Sanborn for the agency's annual campaign breakfast Thursday morning.
While United Way representatives were glad to reach their goal, they also acknowledged mounting challenges for their agency, as they have decreased their fundraising goal over the last several years.
Carol Houwaart-Diez, the United Way of Greater Niagara president, said that growing financial pressures for employers, like rising healthcare costs, caused the campaign to set a lower goal after agency officials spoke with their donors and analyzed financial projections.
"We really measure our community to make sure we know what we're trying to accomplish," Houwaart-Diez said.
Houwaart-Diez also said changes in management structure at larger corporate donors - some companies now have financials processed in other states - have presented challenges for the annual fall fundraising drive. She said the agency may no longer concentrate on the 10-week push, instead setting a goal for the entire year and pushing fundraising efforts year round.
The agency may discontinue the annual breakfast, instead announcing fundraising totals at the not-for-profit's spring meetings, she added.
"A lot of times United Ways across the country no longer do a breakfast like this," Houwaart-Diez said. "They wait until the spring of the following year because all of the numbers are actually in."
Houwaart-Diez went on to say that though the campaign is over, the agency will continue to raise funds through the end of the year. She thanked United Way staff and volunteers, saying without them the agency would never have been able to reach its goal.
"When people say Carol is helping, it's only because I have a staff that is behind us, and volunteers," Houwaart-Diez said.
James Klyczek, president of Niagara County Community College, served as the honorary chair for the 2013 campaign. He said the successful campaign represents the dedication of the Niagara County community to people in need.
"Thanks to each of you for believing in the future of Niagara County, one that's bright and hopeful," Klyczek said.
Tracy Diina, a representative for Consumer Credit Counseling, said her agency would not have been able to expand into Niagara County without the help of the United Way.
"It was difficult to raise the money to do this," Diina said. "We knew what we wanted to do and it was a matter of obtaining the funding."
The agency, which helps people manage and pay down debt, was able to open a Niagara Falls office and is planning an office in Lockport, something that was only possible after partnering with United Way of Greater Niagara, Diina said.
"We could not have done this, we could not have created this economic empowerment coalition without the help of United Way of Greater Niagara," Diina said.
Gerald Smith, the program director for Niagara University's Niagara County Early Childhood Quality Improvement Project, also sang the praises of the charitable agency, saying the United Way was instrumental his group's work preparing young children for school.
"School readiness doesn't just begin at kindergarten," Smith said. "It really begins at birth."
United Way funding has helped the project purchase equipment, pay for professional development and will be used to expand programming over the next three years, Smith said.
"Really the United Way's mission of getting children ready for school, that's been our biggest goal," Smith said.
Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257