In August, when Kenai Peninsula United Way Executive Director Evy Gebhardt and campaign chair Bob Favretto announced the organization's fund-raising goal this winter would be $475,000, some -- including Gebhardt -- thought it was too ambitious. Little did they know that eight months later the organization would exceed that goal by more than $100,000.
Gebhardt announced the record-setting total of $580,188 at a volunteer appreciation reception Thursday.
"I knew we were in good shape for some time, but I didn't tell Bob or any of the board members," Gebhardt said. "It really surprised them. They were elated and very, very excited."
"It was spectacular," said United Way board fund-raising liaison LeRoy Heinrich. "We are always concerned whether we will make our goal or not, and to our surprise, it was $580,000-plus."
Gebhardt said she and United Way's accountant kept double-checking the figures.
"We kept pinching ourselves," she said. "We were very pleased."
Favretto was out of town Monday and could not be reached for comment.
Gebhardt said she thought the biggest difference this year was an upsurge in employee contributions, especially in the oil patch, which really came through.
BP Alaska employees donated more than $42,000, and that was matched by the company, with other donations, to the tune of $66,000, for a total of $108,000, she said. Peak Oilfield Service on the Kenai Peninsula donated a total of $103,000 between employee contributions and corporate matching funds.
"They were just phenomenal," Gebhardt said.
"I think it's indicative that this community realizes the value of what we can do collectively," she added. "They are not just looking for major corporations to fill gaps."
Heinrich credits the response by oil patch workers, but thinks Gebhardt and Favretto made a difference, too.
"I think Bob Favretto had a great deal to do with it, and maybe Evy had more to do with it than anyone else," he said. "She was out at 7 a.m. making presentations and putting in a lot of time and effort, especially for someone who took the job just as we kicked off the campaign. She did a good job."
This was Gebhardt's first year running the United Way campaign, and she said it wasn't easy.
"Midway through the campaign I would wake up in the middle of the night worried that babies were going to starve because we didn't raise enough money," she said.
Does reaching $580,188 this year mean the goal for next winter will have to be raised to $600,000? Gebhardt isn't sure.
"We want to be conservative," she said. "Companies went through new mergers and they wanted a presence and increased visibility in the community this year, and that may not happen again next year."
She agreed that optimism about the Alaska economy probably contributed to the record-setting donations.
Heinrich said in the past the goal had been set equal to, or slightly above, the past year's total.
"But to beat $580,000, that's going to be tough to do," he said.
Gebhardt said next fund raising season she and the new campaign chair, Bruce Passe, will look at the economy and areas not tapped into in the past.
Passe, Cook Inlet area manager for Peak, will determine the fund-raising goal for the season, which will kick off in August.
Gebhardt said the organization may try to increase its presence in Seward and strengthen its performance overall.
The next step in the process is divvying up the money among United Way's 27 health and human resource nonprofit member agencies. To do that, Gebhardt said she needs the help of another round of volunteers to meet all day May 3 at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Building to determine allocations. It is a process that member agencies or United Way board members cannot participate in. Anyone interested in serving on the allocation committee can contact Gebhardt at 283-9500.
United Way's member agencies provide services such as senior and youth programs, crisis intervention, emergency food and shelter and family education.
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