The climate for raising funds was less than hospitable last fall when the United Way of Mercer County kicked off its 2005 campaign. It was shortly after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast and brought out the giving hearts of many Americans.

But the United Way beat the odds and nearly met its $1 million goal, raising $983,207 for local agencies.

“The community really came together,” said 2005 campaign chairman Richard Epstein.

The total exceeded last year’s donations, making the organization one of the few United Ways across the country able to match or exceed the previous year’s amount, said Executive Director Jim Micsky.

The United Way allocates money annually to community and emergency assistance, health and rehabilitation and youth-related services. Officials analyze community needs, raise funds and measure results to improve the quality of life in the area; every dollar raised in the community stays here.

“The United Way really has become a dynamic force for change and economic development in our community,” Epstein said, noting that investing in education is key.

Through the help of the Shenango Valley Foundation, the United Way has expanded the Success by 6 early childhood education program.

Raising funds is a team effort, Epstein said, adding that the United Way has good support from its volunteer network. Micsky said the organization and the agencies are working more efficiently every year to make the most of the money donated by individuals and companies.

“It’s had a ripple effect of lifting everyone up,” Micsky said. “We’re excited about where we’re headed.”

The top five corporate and employee giving totals to the 2005 campaign were from Sharon Tube Co., First National Bank of Pennsylvania, Wheatland Tube Co., Joy Cone Co. and Pennsylvania Power Co.

A highlight of the 2005 campaign was Duferco Farrell’s corporate and employee giving more than doubling the company’s past United Way efforts, Micsky said.

The United Way of Mercer County provides funding for these groups: American Red Cross; Arc of Mercer County; Brandy Springs Park in Mercer; Catholic Charities Counseling and Adoption Services; Children’s Aid Society; Community Counseling Center of Mercer County; F.H. Buhl Club; French Creek Council of Boy Scouts of America; Grove City and Lakeview Meals on Wheels; Keystone Blind Association; The Literacy Council of Mercer County; Mercer Area Library; Mercer County Juvenile Advisory Council; The Children’s Center of Mercer County; Mental Health Association of Mercer County Inc.; Girl Scouts Penn Lakes Council; Prince of Peace Center in Farrell; The Salvation Army, Shenango Valley and Mercer service units; Shenango Valley Urban League; and Shenango Valley YMCA.

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