United Way Ni­a­gara sets $5.25M goal

The Niagara Falls Review - - FRONT PAGE - AL­LAN BENNER

Ni­a­gara res­i­dents can no longer turn a blind eye to the es­ca­lat­ing level of poverty in the re­gion.

“That’s the mes­sage we’re try­ing to get out there,” said Caro­line Sherk. “We have is­sues and we can’t ig­nore them. They’re not go­ing away. We must fo­cus on them whether they’re ugly or what­not, we have to get in there and do it.”

Sherk, United Way Ni­a­gara’s 2019 cam­paign chair, an­nounced the agency’s $5.25-mil­lion cam­paign goal dur­ing its kick­off break­fast at Club Roma Tues­day.

She told about 480 peo­ple in at­ten­dance the cam­paign will fo­cus on six “#unig­nor­able is­sues” — poverty, home­less­ness, hunger, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, men­tal illness and so­cial iso­la­tion.

“Those are is­sues we can’t ig­nore,” said Sherk, a mar­ket­ing and busi­ness de­vel­op­ment manager for Verge In­sur­ance Group. “The is­sues are not go­ing away on their own. We need to be there on the front­lines and go­ing right at it. And United Way is right at the cen­tre of that.”

United Way ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Frances Hall­worth said the idea be­hind the #unig­nor­able slogan for this year’s cam­paign was “best il­lus­trated” in a story pub­lished in The Stan­dard Saturday, about the im

pact down­town home­less ser­vices are hav­ing on neigh­bour­ing res­i­dents.

“If I had to pin unig­nor­able to some­thing, that’s it. It truly has be­come unig­nor­able” Hall­worth said. “It’s not say­ing, ‘I don’t want them in my back­yard,’ but we need to do some­thing,” she said. “It’s not ig­nor­able any­more.”

Sherk said she was in­spired to head up the cam­paign af­ter vis­it­ing var­i­ous agen­cies that re­ceive United Way fund­ing. She saw work be­ing done in Ni­a­gara’s com­mu­ni­ties to help meet needs of marginal­ized res­i­dents — such as the 25 per cent of Ni­a­gara’s chil­dren who live in poverty, the one in four women who ex­pe­ri­ence do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, as well as ser­vices that help pre­vent the num­ber of sui­cides in the re­gion which now claim a life ev­ery eight days.

“There are far too many more ex­am­ples of the great needs fac­ing our com­mu­ni­ties, but I’ve been in­spired by the work the agen­cies do to sup­port our most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple. Th­ese pro­grams are vi­tal.”

Sherk said she was also in­spired by many of her pre­de­ces­sors, like Ni­a­gara-on-the-Lake phar­ma­cist Sean Simp­son, who helped raise just more than $5.2 mil­lion in 2018, and John Bul­li­vant, a long­time friend of Sherk’s fam­ily who led the 1968 cam­paign.

Bul­li­vant said his team raised about $350,000 from the city’s 90,000 res­i­dents in 1968 — five years af­ter the agency opened its doors in St. Catharines.

“It’s hard to be­lieve it’s been 50 years,” he said.

While there was poverty in the city at the time, he said the prob­lem was nowhere near as preva­lent as it is to­day.

The bulk of the money that was raised by the or­ga­ni­za­tion was used to help lo­cal chil­dren, through pro­grams that in­cluded sub­si­diz­ing child care for work­ing moms.

While hop­ing for the same suc­cess as many of her pre­de­ces­sors, Sherk said this year’s cam­paign has hit the ground run­ning.

She said Gales Gas Bars Ltd. pitched in $50,000 in match­ing do­na­tions through United Way’s Lead­er­ship Chal­lenge, while Fer­gu­son Neu­dorf Glass is spon­sor­ing $25,000 in match­ing con­tri­bu­tions for new donors. Beat­ties con­trib­uted $25,000 to spon­sor the first-ever Cor­po­rate Donor Chal­lenge.

AL­LAN BENNER TORSTAR

United Way Ni­a­gara’s 2019 cam­paign chair Caro­line Sherk speaks with John Bul­li­vant, who led the cam­paign in 1968, af­ter an­nounc­ing this year’s $5.25-mil­lion goal.

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