By ELLY GRIMM
• Leader & Times
There are many charitable organizations in the Liberal area, none better known than the Seward County United Way.
Throughout the year, the United Way contributes a little more than $500,000 to non-profit agencies all throughout the area, including the American Red Cross, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Liberal Area Rape Crisis and Domestic Violence Center. In total, the United Way provides funds for roughly 27 non-profit agencies. A goal for donations is set annually – last year’s goal of $340,000 was met and exceeded.
After the goal is set, the United Way then conducts three nights of hearings where staffers talk to each agency and then they set what each one is going to get as far as funds for that year. That process was done back in February.
There are then several fundraisers that are hosted, including wine tastings at Ruffino’s and an annual trick or treat at Southgate Mall, which is considered the most popular by executive director Kay Burtzloff.
“It’s basically a wonderful event that kids can just kind of run around the mall, and they trick or treat the booths, and they have activities and everything, you know, 800 people right there,” she said.
Burtzloff added the most profitable event from the United Way is the annual golf tournament sponsored by XTO Energy, which she said nets the organization between $12,000 and $18,000.
Burtzloff said that a large portion of donations that come through the United Way are based from payroll deductions from companies that have made such arrangements with the organization. Liberal’s own National Beef is one of Burtzloff’s largest contributors.
“What National Beef does though is provide incentives for people to participate in the campaign, they ask each individual, they’ve also held other kinds of fundraisers for me where they’ve sold hamburgers and the like and then given the money and that sort of thing,” she explained.
The other way funds are raised is through many grants such as the Chronic Risk Reduction Grant and the Kansas Health Foundation, which Burtzloff said amounts to roughly $250,000 of their annual funding. Burtzloff said most of the grants they receive are annual but the United Way is currently in the process of applying for a financial planning grant through the Securities and Exchange Commission in Kansas, which Burtzloff said was a recent discovery for the organizations.
“We’d really like to target that particular grant to say, women that are coming out of the rape crisis center, out of shelter, teenage moms, that kind of thing because for many of them, part of the hold that has been on them is they don’t know their finances, they haven’t been wage earners,” she said of the grant. “And so to give them that training and background to help get them into the next step of their lives is very important.”
Burtzloff said she doesn’t take just money for donations however – she also takes other things.
“People frequently offer me furniture or business supplies or equipment and what I do is ask around my agencies and see who can take them,” she explained. “So I think of myself more as a facilitator. I have a pickup and I do a schlupping day where I take it from point A to point B but so often, people don’t think of that as a thing that United Way can do but actually I do quite a bit of that.”
Burtzloff said she also considers herself a referral service.
“A lot of times they know they need help but they don’t know which agency in town can help them,” she said. “In addition to calling me, which is 624-5400, they also can call our statewide referral line, which is 211. Not only can they tell you the type of assistance available here in Liberal but, basically, anywhere in the state.”
And Burtzloff isn’t stopping there with the United Way’s work – there are also improvements being made to the organization’s website to make volunteering opportunities more readily available, especially for high school students who need volunteer hours.
“What we’re doing is we’re asking all of our agencies to sign up and say ‘hey this is our agency, this is what we do, this is the kinds of things we need, this is the kinds of volunteers we need.’ Also people can come to one place in town and say ‘hey I want to volunteer but I don’t know what I want to volunteer for’ and have one place to look up all the different volunteer opportunities and that kind of thing and see if maybe they need someone to help with bookkeeping or maybe someone to read with kids, whatever they need,” she said excitedly of the new function.