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Dave Olson, Published September 15 2011

United Way effort kicks off

FARGO – Jennelle Bichler’s story brought the 500 or so people who gathered Wednesday at the Fargo Air Museum to their feet.

The occasion was the kick-off to the United Way of Cass-Clay’s annual fund drive, with many donors, volunteers and representatives of the United Way’s 41 partner agencies in attendance.

One of those agencies, Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity, is helping Bichler put a roof over the heads of her three children, including a daughter with special needs whom Bichler adopted.

Speaking to those gathered at the Air Museum, Bichler recalled how the adoption a few years ago coincided with the sudden loss of her eyesight to a medical condition.

Bichler wondered at the time how she could remain a mother to her kids while trying to achieve a college degree.

She told Wednesday’s crowd that with the help of community organizations she is on her way to graduating from college in the spring and her kids are looking forward to having their own yard to play in this fall.

Because of groups like Habitat for Humanity and the United Way, she said, when something happens to a loved one, or a neighbor, “they are there to help get you on your feet.”

The United Way’s goal is to raise $5 million.

The agency aimed for the same amount last year and exceeded it.

Sherri Thomsen, United Way of Cass-Clay president, said the amount was determined by assessing the needs of partner agencies and taking into account regional economic conditions.

“We feel $5 million is the right goal,” she said.

This year’s campaign theme is “Never Fly Solo” and Wednesday’s kick-off had a distinctly aeronautical feel.

Thomsen said the message behind the theme is that it takes everyone working together to address the needs of a community.

Kristi Huber, resource development director for the agency, urged business representatives to redouble efforts to convince others in their organizations to give to the United Way, or if they contribute already, to give more.

She said a plan that gives $1 a week will provide meals for 572 hungry people, or ensure that 12 kids will get backpacks filled with enough food for several meals as well as snacks.

The Great Plains Food Bank’s backpack program helps keep young people focused on schoolwork, rather than on where their next meal is going to come from, said West Fargo High School Principal Cory Steiner, who is featured in the United Way’s campaign video.

“They see doors and avenues open that were never there before,” Steiner said of students.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555