United Way of Miami County pitches program to Linn County commission

Updated: Apr 1

MOUND CITY – United Way of Miami County Director Donna Gray and board chair Jason Camis met with the Linn County Commissioners on Monday, Feb. 28, to discuss how their organization could serve Linn County.

Gray was hired part-time in October as the first paid director of the United Way in Miami County. Her previous experience was in fundraising but she will be doing administration, community outreach and fundraising for this position.

Gray said that the United Way of Miami County actually began as the United Fund about 40 years ago. Then it became the United Way of Paola, and then the United Way of Miami County. She said they have raised over $2 million that they have given back to the community.

The organization’s agenda is to fund agencies that service health, financial stability, and education, said Gray. Once a year, there is an application process for agencies to apply. This year the organization had six applications, and it plans on funding about $35,000. The goal this year is to raise $60,000.

Some of the agencies United Way of Miami County previously funded includes Elizabeth Layton Center, Children’s Mercy Hospital, and My Father’s House. Children’s Mercy serves children all around the area, including Miami and Linn counties.

The organization is interested to learn more about agencies in Linn County, Gray said.

Camis explained that the United Way is organized by zip codes and that northeastern Linn County, the zip code of 66040 which includes La Cygne and Linn Valley, is under the United Way of Miami County. Northwestern Linn County, 66072 which includes the Parker area, is under Franklin County. The other five zip codes are under the United Way of Greater Kansas City.

Camis asked if the United Way of Greater Kansas City serviced Linn County because they were not allowed to go into another United Way’s area. No one seemed to know.

In the past 15 to 20 years, the Miami County organization has raised anywhere from $30,000 to $110,000 a year. Ten years ago, they raised $120,000, said Camis

Evergy, formerly Kansas City Power and Light, was the agency’s biggest contributor until the service center in Paola dwindled down to a few employees. Taylor Forge is the largest funding partner now.

The United Way uses a process called the Combined Federal Campaign that works with businesses to get companies, school districts, governments and other large employers to encourage their employees to sign up through payroll deduction.

Camis said it is surprising how a $1 a paycheck can add up.

While United Way requires that each local United Way only work with 501c3 organizations for donations, Camis said that they are unique because they are small and are more flexible.

They can see a need in their local communities and set up their own program, said Camis. Examples of a few of the programs that the Miami County organization has helped with are air conditioning units at the Paola Senior Center and also setting up a Back to School event where children in Paola are given haircuts, dental and visual exams, backpacks, and clothing and shoe vouchers.

Commissioner Rick James, whose wife works with the United Way, asked how Linn County could get the whole county under the United Way of Paola. Gray said there was a form they could fill out to request the change. Gray will send them the form.

James asked if that happened would they need committee members from Linn County on their board. Camis said yes.

Gray said, “The primary benefit of the United Way to the agencies not only is the funding but they are so busy just trying to keep up with what they do that trying to raise money is really tough, so this helps them.”

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