Six degrees of separation is a theory that everyone in the world is connected through no more than six people. A person could be friends with another person who works for a celebrity. It is all about finding those connections.
"That is what United Way is about," said Mary Wolf, Lycoming County United Way president, at its annual kickoff. "Connecting people. It is as simple as one person giving a dollar and as those dollars add up, they are given to different agencies' programs that in turn help people with a particular need."
The kickoff, held Thursday morning in St. John Neumann Regional Academy, was an opportunity to engage the students and encourage them to get involved with volunteering.
CRAIG S. McKIBBEN JR./Sun-Gazette
Scott Lowery, executive director of the Lycoming County United Way, addresses colleagues, community partners and students at St. John Neumann Regional Academy’s High School Campus on Penn Street during the LCUW’s 2012 kick-off.
"Thank you so much for bringing us one degree closer today through having our 2012 campaign kick-off with you," Wolf said.
Last year's campaign kickoff was held just one week after the flood, Virgil Probasco, 2012 campaign chairman, said.
"There was a lot of doubt by many that we would be able to come close to the goal we had set for the campaign, let alone meet the expectations from the previous year's campaign, or the ongoing needs," Probasco said. "The impact of the flooding and the needs that it created were great, but the spirit of this community was even greater."
The campaign raised $1.55 million. Despite that amount, there still was more than a $170,000 shortfall for meeting the needs of the program partners.
This year, the goal is $1.72 million, which includes last year's shortfall.
That money helps fund a variety of programs, such as Hope Enterprises, Prevention of Blindness with North Central Sight Services and Meals on Wheels.
Funds raised also helped the James V. Brown Library's Learning Center, when it lost funding last Spring. As Sharon Buehrer, who helps with the program, explained, United Way continued to support a "skeleton" crew of staff, tutors and supply materials to reach students' needs.
Buehrer helped a woman with vision problems get her GED so she could work with her children when they needed help with their homework.
"How important is our team's goal?" Scott Lowery, executive director, said. "The population of Lycoming County is about 120,000. During the past 12 months, 47,116 residents of Lycoming County have received help provided by United Way funding. Do the math. That's 39 percent of the people living in this county who have turned to United Way for help of various kinds."
Having the kickoff at St. John Neumann was an opportunity to showcase both United Way and the school, which are both rooted in the spirit of service and giving back, said Frank Pellegrino, St. John Neumann board president.
"I truly believe that when we come together for service programs, we are learning through active participation and direct service to our neighbors," Pellegrino said. "We gain a sense of accomplishment, self-worth and appreciation of the fact we are our brothers' keepers."
Neighbors helping neighbors became apparent to essay winner Olivia Pierce, of St. John Neumann. Last year's flooding almost destroyed her grandparents' house on Loyalsock Creek.
"The day after the flood, my family went to work cleaning 7 inches of mud out of the first floor and between 3 to 5 feet of mud out of the basement," Pierce said. "After around 45 minutes, a group of students from Lycoming College came by, asking to assist us. Three more groups came by. They were on their way to help other families rebuild their houses."
She also visited the fire hall where tables of clothing, shoes, food and sanitary supplies were set up, donated by people in the area.
"Although some people did not have the time, money or resources to help, they did because they knew that others were worse off," Pierce said. "Volunteering is important and my family was grateful that people were willing to help. In times of disaster and distress, volunteering can bring communities together."