This article by Mary Jane Skala originally appeared in the Kearney Hub on April 20, 2023.
United Way of the Kearney Area Annual Meeting
KEARNEY — The United Way of the Kearney Area fell short of its goal for its 2022-2023 campaign, but it had plenty to celebrate at its annual meeting on Wednesday.
The campaign, which ran from Oct. 1-March 31, raised $365,000 of its $430,000 goal, but that figure was not mentioned at the meeting or in its 2023 annual report that guests received at the luncheon.
Instead, Savannah Lyon, new executive director; Jerry Hultgren, outgoing board president; and Landon Lueshen, incoming president, accented the positives and enthusiastically looked ahead.
Since starting her position Jan. 16, “Savannah has supplied the leadership so essential to us,” Hultgren said. He knows that firsthand.
Hultgren has served two consecutive terms as president as the board faced unprecedented challenges in the past two years, including replacing two directors.
Julie Van Hoek, who was hired as UWKA executive director last June, abruptly resigned last fall. She had replaced Nikki Erickson, who had held the position from April 2018-December 2021.
Hultgren said those personnel changes, plus the 2019 floods and COVID-19, have been “a challenge,” but he said Lyon brings a strong nonprofit background and enthusiasm to the position.
She previously spent 10 years as development director of Compass. She also worked remotely for Living Stone Global, a nonprofit that serves people in Kenya.
Hultgren called UWKA an “incredible organization,” citing “the people I’ve met, the partner agencies. It’s all about working together to help those in need.”
Lyon told the lunch gathering at the Kearney Country Club that it was the first time UWKA had been able to have an annual meeting lunch since before the COVID-19 pandemic.
She praised her team as being “positive, generous and so helpful.” She singled out UWKA accounting manager Rhonda Guthard as being especially helpful and welcoming.
Investing in Kearney's Future
Lyon also introduced a woman named Ashley (no last name given), who, she said, exemplifies what UWKA can do. Twelve years ago, Ashley found herself homeless with her 1-year-old daughter after she discovered that she was living with a registered sex offender.
The Jubilee Center provided Ashley with a hotel room for a week until she could move into a Residential Assistance for Families in Transition apartment. RAFT is a UWKA agency. Ashley got her GED while her daughter Kaylie attended Head Start. Ashley now works at Kearney Regional Medical Center.
“Ashley was excited to give back when KRMC had its United Way campaign, and she’s now on our board,” Lyon said. “It’s exciting to see someone utilize our resources and then invest them back into the community.”
Lueshen, accepting the gavel as new board president, called Lyon "a new head coach. She has heartfelt love, selflessness and integrity. She has the ability to impact thousands of people. I am ready for us to grow."
Allo Fiber was the sponsor of the just-ended campaign. Pinnacle Bank will sponsor the 2023-2024 campaign, which begins next fall.
United Way supports 21 partner agencies in six counties — Buffalo, Kearney, Franklin, Harlan, Phelps and Custer — that focus on education, finance and health. Those agencies include Salvation Army, Boy Scouts, American Red Cross and others.
According to its annual report, in 2022 UWKA distributed $227,365 to 20 nonprofit agencies. It also presented 44 youth activities scholarships, 517 winter coats for children and youth and 1,082 backpacks and supplies to school children.