Story by Heather Feeler | Oct 30, 2017
Photography by Keith Borgmeyer

United Way of Central Missouri makes dreams come true.

Walt Disney built a magical kingdom, but he always knew it wasn’t the castle that made it shine. It was the people. He said, “You can design and create and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it takes people to make the dream a reality.” He believed in happy endings. So does the United Way of Central Missouri.

The United Way partners with 28 nonprofit health and human services organizations to tackle our community’s toughest needs — health care, education, and financial stability. By coming together and finding solutions, the United Way and its partner agencies are ensuring those most vulnerable in our community are given the help they need.

“We help people live their best possible lives. It’s really about taking care of each other right here in our community,” says Ann Bax, president and chief professional officer of the United Way. “People in our community have their own personal disasters happening, and you never know when you’re going to need the help of one of our partner agencies.”

Last year, United Way agencies helped more than 80,000 people in central Missouri. It’s a big impact, but one that takes serious dollars. The United Way serves as the lead fundraiser for 28 organizations during its annual fundraising campaign, which kicks off in August and runs through October. The United Way campaign goal is set by the ongoing needs of the agencies — $1.875 million for 2017 — and a new theme is picked each year to keep it fresh and fun.

“The serious component of the campaign is working hard to reach the goal so we can help thousands of people in our community who are touched by the United Way, but we’ve found our community loves a fun component as well, such as the Disney theme and slogan for this year: ‘If you can dream it, you can do it’,” says Bax.

United Way staff and volunteers work together with area businesses to brainstorm fun, campaign-themed fundraising ideas for their internal United Way workplace campaigns. This year, employees kissed frogs, decorated their cubicles with Disney décor, held “Frozen”-inspired ice cream socials, and encouraged employee giving with a magical vacation getaway. While the details vary by each business, the heart of the giving is all the same: to help raise the bar on generous giving in our community.

The United Way also hosted creative community events during the campaign, including the third annual Mid-Missouri’s Got Talent event, which was held in September. Community members submitted a video of their talent online to be voted on by the public, and the top six finalists performed at the live show in front of judges dressed as Disney characters. In addition, the United Way partner agencies also shined with their own talented performances for the audience. But the night’s show-stealers were the kids and adults personally helped by those programs, who came out on stage for recognition.

“We always want our supporters to see the faces of the lives they are personally touching,” Bax says. “We have them present at all our events so the community can really understand what we’re doing to change lives.”

As Walt Disney knew, changing lives takes great people. The United Way has 600 volunteers that make this magic happen every year, including dedicated campaign co-chairs that attend hundreds of events during the campaign and more than 100 volunteers that review every agency’s funding request on an annual basis to ensure each dollar is spent wisely. In addition, each of the partner agencies has dedicated executive directors and staff who make incredible contributions with their time and fundraising efforts.

The end of the campaign is celebrated with a victory celebration breakfast, held on November 2 this year at Missouri Farm Bureau, where the final campaign totals are revealed. It’s an exciting moment for agencies, volunteers, and community members to see the results of their hard work. Bax finds the event both inspirational and emotional.

“It makes your heart so very full. It’s indescribable how this community gets behind the United Way,” Bax reflects. “Every year, I think it can’t get any better, but it does. This community continues to be generous and selfless in their giving.”

It is a happy ending perhaps even Walt Disney, the impossible dreamer and magic maker, would be proud to see: one where a community comes together and changes lives by being united and dreaming big.

United Way Partner Agencies

  • 4-H Youth Program
  • ABLE Learning Center
  • American Red Cross
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters
  • Boy Scouts
  • Boys & Girls Club
  • Capital City CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates)
  • Capitol Projects
  • Central Missouri Foster Care & Adoption Association
  • Community Health Center
  • Council for Drug Free Youth
  • Dental, Eye, and Shoe Program
  • Dreams to Reality
  • Early Childhood Initiative
  • Familywize Prescription Drug Program
  • Girl Scouts
  • Homemaker Health Care
  • Jefferson City Area YMCA Child Development Center
  • Little Explorers Discovery Center (formerly Jefferson City Day Care Center)
  • Osage County Community Living
  • Pathways Community Health
  • Rape and Abuse Crisis Service
  • Salvation Army
  • Senior Nutrition Council
  • Special Learning Center
  • The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri
  • Tri-County YMCA
  • United Way Missouri 2-1-1

Read more about local people and businesses of character here.