By Liz Shepherd
WARSAW — United Way is about helping people and the challenges of the last year have demanded a new approach and more ambitious vision.
As of January, the United Way of Whitley and Kosciusko Counties has been formed as the two United Ways have come together with a mission to improve the lives of children and families across the region.
“We realized that the two organizations could do so much more together,” said Tammy Keirn, chair of the Board of Directors. “The two United Ways had been working closely for years, as we discovered we had so much in common.”
In additional to a shared workforce, the region increasingly shares a strong live/play pattern. The commonalities go deeper.
“The challenges our families face are real and complicated,” said Laura McDermott, superintendent of Whitley County Consolidated Schools and a United Way board member. “This partnership gives United Way the muscle to make a difference for children.”
The organization is led by Darren Bickel, who has been the president of the United Way of Kosciusko County since 2017 and has more than 20 years of United Way experience.
“I feel like the board members are really walking the walk,” said Bickel. “They stepped up and found a way to be better stewards. The future is bright.”
Bickel said discussions on the merger have been ongoing for the last three years. The United Way of Whitley County’s executive director position became vacant in summer 2020, which led to the paperwork process officially starting.
“Oddly enough, in the middle of a pandemic, the timing seemed better,” said Bickel on the merger. “It was at a point where we had more organizational bandwidth where we could have those conversations. We’ve found the two counties are very similar…we are finding so many folks who live in one and work in the other or have interest in both communities.”
Like many organization leaders and business owners in Kosciusko County, Bickel said United Way is glad to have 2020 behind them.
“When you’re in the relationship business, when you get disconnected from all of that, everything gets harder,” said Bickel. “But we’ve been doing more digital things lately that have been fun.”
Two initiatives are hitting the ground running: “Fill It Up” and “Read United.”
- Fill It Up is a monthly opportunity for community members to pick up a box from United Way and fill it with key items for children in need.
- Read United is a digital effort connecting community volunteers with elementary school classrooms to read stories to students in April.
Information about both initiatives can be found on the United Way Kosciusko and Whitley website.
The business office for United Way of Whitley and Kosciusko Counties is located at 119 E. Center St., Warsaw, and the mailing address is PO Box 923 Warsaw, IN 46580. The phone number is (574) 269-2592.
For any additional information, visit the United Way Kosciusko and Whitley website.