United Way works to support community

Posted: Monday, November 11, 2002

People who invest in the Kenai Peninsula United Way are investing in the community, the agency's executive director told a Kenai Chamber of Commerce audience recently.

To illustrate her point, Evy Gebhardt asked: "Why do we love living here?"

Among the answers: "A tight community." "It's God's country." "It's not L.A."

Then, Gebhardt had several audience members read some statistics which contrast with the reasons people make the peninsula their home. Among them:

Alaska has the fifth most severe rate of alcohol use in the nation.

Alaska has the highest rate of child abuse in the nation.

During a 13-month period, 27 percent of juvenile crimes committed in Alaska were felonies.

Alaska leads the nation in sexual assaults.

"These are not reasons people would move to the community," said Gebhardt.

United Way acts as a safety net, working to improve the statistics, she said.

The 28 United Way agencies on the peninsula offer everything from food to programs to improve the quality of life for youths, families and seniors.

Among other services, they offer help for the terminally ill and their families, shelter and counseling for victims of domestic abuse, and treatment for alcohol and drug abuse.

For example, with United Way funding the Kenai Senior Citizens Center is able to "get into the community and search out people in need," said Rachael Craig, Kenai's senior services executive director. "It opens doors to provide some real caring."

With United Way's help, the center has assisted seniors who were unable to eat properly, balance a checkbook or find rides to the doctor.

It currently is difficult to gauge if United Way will reach its fund-raising goal of $650,000 by April. There is some concern about anticipated cutbacks from major donors, Gebhardt said.

"People are not apt to donate if they don't have a job," she said.

At some point, most of the approximately 60 audience members had donated to United Way.

About 90 percent had helped through volunteer work or contributions to the campaign, said Diana Zirul, this year's campaign chair.

"It is a clear demonstration of community helping community," she said.

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