I took my youngest child to kindergarten last week.  I’d like to say I didn’t tear up.  But, that would be a lie.

    When we arrived in the crowded gymnasium, she held my hand.  Not tightly, just the normal way she holds my hand when we cross the street.

    Voices of the excited children filled the air.  The room was alive with a sense of anticipation.  My poor sense of smell was nearly overcome with the smell of new backpacks and shoes.

    This was not my first “time at the rodeo.”  Third child, third time gearing up for the big transition to school, I expected this to be business as usual.

    As I led her to the line of classmates sitting in a row on the gymnasium floor, she looked up at me. The look was nothing more than a glance.

    And the tears formed.

    Honestly, I cannot pinpoint the reason why. She is more than ready to succeed in school academically, socially and emotionally.

    I think it just suddenly struck me how fast five years can fly by.

    As I sat prepared to write this column, I found myself reflecting back on this time five years ago.

    On August 1, 2012, I arrived for my first day of work.  Having been on maternity leave for almost a full year prior, I was a little like the kindergartners in the room.  New pants and new shoes were in order, as I had worn yoga pants and flip flops daily in the eleven months prior.

    And, like the veteran mom I described earlier, I will admit I arrived with a false sense of security. From my past experience at Health Ministries, I thought I knew a lot about the United Way organization.

    I even recall joking, “After campaign season, I don’t know how I’ll fill my time each spring.”

    What I didn’t count on was a dynamic, synergistic board working diligently with my predecessors to prepare the foundation for some next major steps.

    What I didn’t count on was a community ready to respond in a supportive, giving way.

    What I didn’t count on was how fast five years could fly by.

    During that time, the organization has grown and experienced things I never imagined.

    In five years, this organization has accomplished:

Including a measurable outcomes component for all grant funding.  In other words, every dollar granted must have a direct and lasting impact on the community.  The funded partner reports those results at mid-year and the conclusion of the grant year.  That means we ask questions like, “What cycles are broken? What difference did this make?” not just “How many people did you serve?” with United Way funds.

Becoming the host agency for KidFEST. This popular community event reaches children ages birth to eight, with fun activities and a free book to take home.  

Responding to tragedy and being a part of local response planning. It goes without saying that no one ever wants to re-live the events of the Excel Incident. But, this organization assumed a role and carried it out for the benefit of the community. This type of response is expected in times of tragedy and natural disasters. We understand better now our role, and have developed strong partnerships in the Local Emergency Planning Council and community.

Launching a wildly successful Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.  As of this writing, 625 children receive books monthly in every community in the county, and 312 children have graduated at age five.  That means, in only two years, we have reached almost 1,000 children in a county with a population of 34,000.  Let that sit in a minute. The cost of the program is $26/year, and we know that investment now will pay off in higher graduation rates in the future.

Showing our support to local teachers through the Classroom Wish List project.  In its third year, the program filled wishes for 138 teachers in Halstead, Hesston, Newton and St. Mary’s schools this year.  Wishes range from basic needs (paper and pens) to hygiene supplies to art and science projects. United Way acts as the connector between local people who care and the needs in the classrooms.  The support this year was overwhelming.

As I said earlier, I assumed this role thinking United Way was just about an annual campaign.  Don’t get me wrong, without donations, we cannot do any of the great things mentioned in this list.

But, what I would hope is that if you are a donor and reading this column, you feel an even greater sense of pride in how far your dollar goes in the community.  

And, if you’ve never donated to United Way, I hope you will give us a second glance.

We may not be as exciting as the first day of Kindergarten, but I venture our future looks just as bright.   


— Tina Payne is the director of Harvey County United Way. She can be reached at harveyunitedway@gmail.com or 283-7101.