(EDITOR'S NOTE: This series shares the real-life stories of people who benefit from the services provided by the Lycoming County United Way Program Partners and the individuals who make it possible.)
Special to the Sun-Gazette
During this joyous season of gift giving, colorful packages painstakingly wrapped will be exchanged between family, friends and loved ones. Some will fulfill simple needs, some will be unexpected and a few may be lavish expressions of love or appreciation bestowed from the giver to the recipient.
If truth be told, there also will be gifts that are quickly returned to the store as the size, color or need was not quite right.
As the calendar quickly advances to the zero hour, the more organized among us will have completed the shopping, wrapped the presents and completed most all of the preparations. The procrastinators, last-minute bargain hunters or shopping zealots who truly enjoy the hustle and bustle will continue their purchasing missions until the clock strikes midnight. But regardless of their approach, they will get things done and those special gifts will be ready for their presentation.
Despite all the Santa's helpers working the stores, the bell-ringers at their stations outside and the numerous events heralding the season, there are far too many among us who are out of sight, out of mind and untouched by this seasonal display of gift giving.
Although they are not dressed in red suits, thousands of Lycoming County residents are giving gifts of much more importance that are improving the lives of our friends and neighbors 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of year. They are the donors who are supporting the community mission of the Lycoming County United Way, "mobilizing resources to improve lives."
As the LCUW campaign winds down, donors explained why the annual United Way campaign is important to them and how the programs funded by United Way help so many others.
Meet Adrienne Craig, Jersey Shore Area School District
Adrienne Craig believes it is in giving that one receives. She said when she began contributing to United Way more than 25 years ago during a time when it was hard to squeeze out a few dollars each pay, she knew that she was the one receiving.
"We all hear this simple truth, but it means something different to everyone," she said. "There are many ways to give and, to me, giving is one of my core beliefs. It seems like something private that shouldn't be talked about. I am (uncomfortably) doing just that in hopes of inspiring others."
Craig, too, finds inspiration from those around her. She said working in public education forces her to see, firsthand, how many people are in need of some kind of help.
"I am very fortunate and feel it is so important to give back to the community. I like taking a percentage of what I earn and giving it right back before I even get my paycheck. Really, I believe that is my responsibility."
With many organizations in need of financial support, Craig contributes to Lycoming County United Way as a way of providing the much-needed assistance to many local organizations that benefit the students in her district, their families and the community.
"We cannot take for granted that the agencies that help people will always be there," she said. "They simply can't exist without financial support."
Meet Sue Potts, M&T Bank
Potts has been with M&T Bank for 27 years and during that time has been a contributor to the annual United Way campaign. For many of those years, she has served as the company's in-house campaign manager.
Her United Way involvement has been much more than urging her fellow employees to contribute. Her simplistic answer, "I contribute because it is the right thing to do," speaks volumes about why she chooses to contribute and complements the mission of United Way.
"In today's world, there are so many people who are down on their luck and need a helping hand," Potts said. "When you are blessed, you have to pay it forward."
Meet Keith Kuzio, Larson Design Group
Kuzio's first donation to United Way was in 1985. He was encouraged by co-workers who wanted to have 100-percent employee participation from the bridge design group in which they were working.
"They sold me on the benefits of giving to LCUW, and I've been a contributor every year since then," Kuzio said.
His involvement with United Way is extensive - first, as a contributor for 10 years, then as a fundraising volunteer for 10 years before chairing the annual campaign in 2005. He also served on the LCUW board for eight years and filled the president's role from 2006 to 2008. Kuzio now is centered on helping with leadership giving initiatives.
"That's one of the great things about volunteering with the United Way - there are many ways to be involved and to utilize your skills and capabilities," he said. "I will always be involved with LCUW in some manner or another because of the people, results and good work that they get done year after year in our community."
Kuzio and his wife, Jennifer, contribute to United Way "because it is a very easy way to support the comprehensive human service needs of our community through one donation."
He also appreciates the value in the detailed evaluations of the non-profit programs that benefit from United Way funds. He knows that each Program Partner is effectively and efficiently delivering unduplicated services that meet the most critical needs in the county, assuring the maximum positive impact form the dollars given.
"Finally, giving generously to the United Way is an easy decision for us based on the dedication of staff and volunteers that make the United Way's fundraising, allocations and community building process happen," Kuzio said. "These people are all very committed, and they readily accept responsibility and accountability to assure that donor dollars are being spent wisely."
As the Lycoming County United Way campaign continues, the community is urged to think about family, friends and neighbors who may be facing hardships. Consider helping those individuals and others like them by supporting Lycoming County United Way. Live United. Give United.
For more information, visit lcuw.org or call 570-323-9448.