I looked at the gentleman standing in front of me and said, “So, how’s your day?”

He responded with a deep sigh, “You just don’t want to know.” I prodded, “It’s OK, I don’t mind sad stories.” Naturally, he asked what I did for a living.

And then he responded, “I bet in that line of work that’s all you hear. Sad stories all day long.”

That would be Perception No. 1 of our conversation.

I explained that actually in last week I had been buying school and classroom supplies for teachers in almost every school district in the county. Filling Classroom Wish Lists for area educators is pretty far from a sad story in my book, in my opinion.

He continued, “Well, have you started ‘strong arming’ people for money yet?”

And that would be Perception No. 2 of our conversation.

As he loaded the groceries into my vehicle, I wished him well and departed with appreciation for his honesty.

It’s simply impossible for me to know how Harvey County United Way is perceived by others unless I am told. So, I will start this monthly missive with an open invitation. Tell me what you think Harvey County United Way does.

And if your answer is “listen to sad stories” or “strong arm people for money,” I want to hear that, too. Because my perception is just that, my own perception viewed with the blinders I wear. But, your perception is actually more important.

My contact information is: harveyunitedway@gmail.com or 283-7101. My schedule is flexible, and I’d be happy to meet with you individually instead if you wish.

This is an exciting time of year for us, so I’m breaking away from my typical format to include some updates instead:

Classroom Wish List/Fill the Bus 2016 was a tremendous success! If you donated a pencil or paper or anything else at Walmart on August 6, please know you helped us prepare packages for all 119 educators requesting items this year.

Expanding the program county-wide was a big leap of faith for us. But, the Fill the Bus donors and local sponsors bridged the gap.

I wish each of you could have been here to hear the words of thanks from the teachers. And, I can only begin to imagine the difference it makes for the students.

Softball Tournament is Aug. 27. Summer may be winding down, but you can still take in a little diamond action. With eight teams committed, games will be running on the fields at Centennial and Washington parks.

Home Run Derby at noon for those who like to see them knocked out of the park, literally.

Stay for lunch with concessions by the hard working folks at First Bank. Sales proceeds will be included in their United Way campaign.

Chili Cook-off is fast approaching on Saturday, September 24. Almost hard to believe, but the event celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

The cook-off is located on 6th street from Main to Poplar. Midland Bank has graciously agreed to block off their parking lot to help with crowd overflow this year.

We are excited to feature the Stephens Family Band playing for most of the time, with a break mid-way for the Newton High School Drum Line.

Tickets are $5.00 in advance, and $6.00 at the gate. Be sure to bring some loose change and dollars to vote for your favorite entry, helping them win the “People’s Choice” award.

Last I checked, there were already 20 booths registered, with lots of interest from more folks this year. It’s not too late to enter your winning chili. Contact Mike Petitjean or Hannah Miller at 284-2445.

Red Hot Chili Pepper 5K and Little Pepper Fun Run is a new event this year. Melody Spurney of the Newton Convention and Tourism Bureau has designed this run as a compliment to the Chili Cook-off.

Held earlier in the day on Saturday, September 24, the race route will begin and end downtown.

Carriage Factory Gallery will be hosting family activities in the time between the race and the cook-off.

Registrations for the 5K include a ticket to the Chili Cook-off. Find registration info at www.tonewton.com.

“Picture This: My Contribution. Countless Results.” Is the official campaign theme this year. The new campaign video debuted at the USD 373 All Staff meeting on August 12 to rave reviews.

The message is very simple. What do you picture for this community? The video features the connection between the “big picture” views of our community supporters and the work of United Way.

The video is intended to be a conversation starter. Throughout the fall, we will be asking more people to pose for the same. You can too!

Check out the video on our Facebook page or on our YouTube channel HarveyCoUnitedWay.

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