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United Way hands out Community Impact Awards, kicks off annual campaign
United Way of Kitsap County on Monday launched its annual campaign, "Live United," welcoming about 170 supporters to the Kitsap Conference Center at Bremerton Harborside for a kick-off ceremony and presentation of the 2008 Community Impact Awards.
The awards, given for the first time last year, recognize individuals, businesses and organizations for making Kitsap County a better place.
"Community impact is about getting at the root cause of problems," said Patricia Hennessy, United Way of Kitsap County director of resource development, who presented the awards.
This year's awards were given to organizations for helping children and youth succeed (Bremerton School District), promoting health and wellness (Kitsap County Health District), building safe and caring communities (Habitat for Humanity) and supporting aging and vulnerable populations (Boeing Bluebills).
Superintendent Bette Hyde and Linda Sullivan-Dudzic, director of special programs, spoke on behalf of the school district, which was recognized for advocating early childhood education.
Since 2001, when only four percent of students knew the alphabet entering kindergarten, the district has focused on early childhood reading. Today, that number is above 50 percent and more than 94 percent of first graders can read.
"We couldn't do this without our many partners," Hyde said. "It's the district as a whole, working with the community as a whole, it really is a community partnership."
Habitat for Humanity landed its award, in part, for building the New Hope Community in West Bremerton, the first multi-residential project built by Habitat's Kitsap County chapter.
The project translated to 18 new homes in a notoriously poor area.
"This award goes to all our donors and volunteers who build our houses," said Josh Daughtery, development manager. "New Hope is built completely by volunteer labor."
The health district, meanwhile, was recognized for its Welcome Home Baby Program, a free service offering assistance with breast-feeding, weight check for babies, information on self-care for mothers and other community resources.
Health District representatives Scott Lundquist and Sandra Morales accepted the award, recognizing the staff and board of health for making the program possible.
Myron Vogt and Ed Berthiaume, of the Boeing Bluebill's Olympic Chapter, also accepted an award.
Prior to the award ceremony, United Way of Kitsap County Executive Director David Foote introduced the "Live United" theme.
An ambitious trio of 10-year goals, aiming to cut high school drop-out rates and the number of financially unstable working families in half, and increase the percentage of healthy youth and adults by one-third, "Live United" calls for community support in advancing the common good.
"These targets — education, income and health — are the building blocks for a good life," Foote said.
The tag line illustrates the "power of the whole," one of United Way's key ideals.
"United Way, and not just United Way in Kitsap County, but the United Way system across the country, is evolving," Foote said. "The evolution is progression from 'what matters', to 'live united.'"
Foote said the national high school graduation rate is 73.9 percent, far too low for a country with so many resources. To combat those numbers, he said, children need developmentally sound literacy, social, emotional and cognitive skills before kindergarten.
"To achieve this goal ... we must engage with children and their families beginning at birth," he said. "These skills are essential."
The second stem in the three-legged root, to reduce the number of financially insecure working class families, will call the community to promote financial stability and independence.
"We must help lower-income families increase income, build savings and grow assets so that they have reduced debt and are working toward a goal," Foote said, including retirement, starting a business and post-secondary education among the goals.
And lastly, Foote said, members of the community must remain in good health.
"He who has health has hope, and he who has hope has everything," he said, drawing from an Arabian proverb.
"Live United; it is about advancing the common good. When you lend the hand to one, you influence the conditions of all."
West Sound Bank President and CEO Terry Peterson, who is the 2008 United Way Annual Campaign Community Chair, gave the keynote address. He called United Way a "bulletproof organization," saying it has stood the test of time since beginning in 1887 in Denver, Colo.
"United Way really is a western culture, it's part of our heritage," Peterson said.
Peterson remembered his first encounter with United Way — donating $20 dollars a month for one year, or a "pizza and a pop" — and illustrated how the "power of the whole" changes lives.
"Giving up a pizza and a pop as an individual isn't much, but when you join with a small army of 1,000 people you can really start making a difference in peoples lives," he explained, "and that's living united."
Peterson also compared "charitable giving" to "charitable investing," saying the latter is what United Way is all about.
"Charitable giving, from my perspective, is giving a kid a coat in the winter," he said. "Charitable investing is not only giving that young person a coat, but trying to figure out why he or she doesn't have a coat in the first place — that's charitable investing, and that's what United Way does so well."
For information about the "Live United" campaign, visit www.unitedwaykitsap.org.