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Oct. 20, 2011 Volume 33, No. 9

Employees dress up, dress down for United Way campaign


University goal upped by $40,000

Brenda Jensen sat atop a thin slab of plastic that stood between her and a chilly pool of water, unaware of how fleeting her dry time would be. Jensen, a manager of University of Missouri emergency patient care services, dialysis transplant and IV therapy, dressed up in a schoolgirl costume for the occasion, and volunteered to let her employees pay to see her take a dip in the 2011 United Way dunking booth.

“I lost count of how many times I went in,” Jensen said. “We had a ringer in the crowd, so once people saw he could hit it every time, I spent most of my time in the water.”

Jensen was one of eight patient care managers and hospital directors who took the plunge for the United Way Sept. 30. It was the second year the dunking booth made an appearance, but the first year employees had the added bonus of dunking their bosses whilst in costume.

Wayland Taylor, an emergency medical technician who planned the event in 2010 and 2011, said he wanted to drum up some excitement for the University of Missouri United Way campaign by organizing a fun event that would inspire camaraderie.

“I remembered how the year before, all of the United Way forms were just sitting there in a box, and there wasn’t really any incentive (to get involved),” Taylor said. “I thought, what better way to have a little fun, and have a donation without even really thinking about it?”

Dunkers had the option of paying $3 for one shot, $5 for six, and for $25, lucky participants could skip the hassle of the toss and just press the button. Altogether, the booth raised $737 this year.

University participation

The dunking booth is just one of the inventive ways faculty and staff are helping to raise $690,000 for this year’s Heart of Missouri United Way fundraiser. The Columbia-based University’s donation is the largest gift to the local United Way branch’s campaign.

According to campaign leader Frank Schmidt, about 20 percent of MU employees donated last year.

“This year we are looking to build more involvement with the faculty, staff and students in the overall campaign,” he said.

Specifically, Schmidt hopes a newly designed website — — will entice more people to donate. One of the most common ways faculty and staff participate in the campaign is by signing up for a payroll deduction, which begins in January. In previous years, pledgers had to fill out and turn in a sheet of paper, but now the process is streamlined into an online format.

“It will make it easier to participate, and we ask people to consider it,” he said.

Ashley Caldwell, an investment specialist in endowment and retirement who is on the United Way campaign marketing committee, said other popular United Way events include “dress down” Fridays where staff pay certain amounts toward the United Way to dress casually. There is also an upcoming silent auction the committee is hoping to open to non-university employees this year, too.

Caldwell said even if employees aren’t able to contribute financially, they are able to donate their time to the community. Individuals have been known to join mentorship programs, work at food banks and contribute their creative services to the silent auction.

“These are all people who are working to make Columbia a better community,” she said.

Willie Jones, a records analyst for the UM System, said he has been working with the United Way in one way or another ever since the university decided to get involved. He is known to cook breakfast for his co-workers to get them inspired for the yearly campaign, and for the past three years has built birdhouses to sell at the auction.

“It’s just something I can do,” Jones said. “They asked staff to use their talent and creativity, and I have a little bit of woodworking tools.”

From there, Jones said he downloaded instructions off the internet, and painted this year’s “bird duplex” in Mizzou’s black and gold.

“I think the United Way is doing a phenomenal job,” he said. “I just think it’s great if we can help out at all in a small way.”  

United Way in Columbia

The Heart of Missouri United Way works with community nonprofits and businesses to focus on four main areas of philanthropy: education, income (financial stability), health, and safety net (emergency needs). They partner with 31 organizations, such as the Rainbow House and the Boys and Girls Club. Twenty-seven of the organizations are located in Columbia.

This year’s overall campaign goal is $3.45 million, “the highest goal we’ve ever had for a community-wide campaign,” said Tim Rich, executive director for the Heart of Missouri United Way. Rich said the increased goal is a reflection of the community needs and the present economy.

The University of Missouri goal is $690,000, which is up $40,000 from 2010’s goal.

Rich said he was inspired since despite the university’s hiring and wage freezes, employee contributions consistently topped themselves from the previous year.

“It’s almost counterintuitive,” he said. “There was one year that individual contributions across the country were in a 10 percent decline, yet in the Columbia area, at least with the United Way, we continue to give more.”

-Megan Cassidy