The United Way of Carbon County officially launched its 2013 campaign on Thursday, starting another year of fundraising and community awareness in Carbon County. The official campaign kick-off occurred at the Lehighton American Legion Post 314.

This year's campaign aims to raise $65,000 to benefit 19 nonprofit organizations in our area. More than 90 percent of the funds received each year will go directly to these organizations.

"We have a volunteer board of directors and no paid staff," said Mindy Graver, vice president of Campaign. "Nearly every dollar that we raise directly benefits the community."

The campaign kick-off also served as a reminder for area businesses that the Carbon County chapter of the United Way is very active in the community, and to ask residents and businesses to support the local nonprofit organizations helped through United Way.

"The idea behind our campaign is to raise awareness. A lot of people don't realize that we do have a Carbon County United Way. They might donate to the national United Way program, but any money we raise stays locally."

Speakers during the campaign kick-off included Dawn Ferrante of Carbon County Economic Development, Robert Fatzinger of Family Promise, and Aggie Shehadeh of Peaceful Knights. Each updated the group about their organization and shared their program's struggles and success to date.

Family Promise, one of the United Way of Carbon County's newest agencies that helps homeless children and families, noted that in the nine months since its launch they have helped six families and 14 children transition from homeless to self-sufficient. Families are offered housing and meals at local churches for up to 3 months while they get back on their feet, and children are able to remain in their school district during this transition. When asked for an example of what Family Promise has done, Fatzinger shared a story of one man and his pregnant girlfriend who successfully completed their program in just one month.

"In that time, he got a job and started saving his money. He is now the assistant manager of a grocery store, and they have an apartment that they can afford. They also have a beautiful baby girl," he said.

"When you're homeless, you're hopeless," added Shehadeh, who works with Peaceful Knights to help homeless adults and couples without children. "When they're working with us, you start to see a flicker of hope."

Each of the speakers stressed that by working together in Carbon County, greater things are possible.

"We have great ideas. We just need to share them with each other. It's going to make us stronger," said Ferrante.

"It's very important to network, just like we are today," added Dr. Lisa Bleicher, the president of United Way of Carbon County. "We don't want to lose these families that we are helping, that they fall back down."

This year's campaign will benefit a total of 19 nonprofit agencies in the community, including several new agencies. Beneficiaries are chosen by members of the community.

The local agencies benefiting from this year's campaign include the American Red Cross of the Greater Lehigh Valley, ARC of NEPA, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bridge, Carbon County Action Committee, Carbon Training Center, Career Link Human Resources Center, Diakon Lutheran Services, Family Promise, Girl Scouts in the Heart of PA and Girl Scouts of NEPA, Healthy Smiles, Methodist Services/Genesis, North Penn Legal Services, Palmerton Meals on Wheels, Pathstone/Head Start, Peaceful Knights, Penn State Extension Prosper Project, Shepherd House, and the Salvation Army.

"The money that we receive helps to keep them going," said Graver, noting that many of these organizations have had their state funding cut as Pennsylvania deals with its own budget problems. She encouraged area residents and businesses to get creative and find new ways to support United Way. While the past few years have been tough economically for many area businesses and families, it doesn't take a large donation to make a big difference in Carbon County.

"I'd love to see businesses putting out a coin jar for Carbon County's United Way, or having a dress down day to raise funds," she added. "It doesn't take a lot of money to make a difference. Every little bit helps."

To support the United Way of Carbon County's 2013 campaign, contact the chapter at (888) 533-3904 or unitedwayofcarboncounty@yahoo.com. Donations may be mailed to PO Box 545, Lehighton, PA 18235. Donations may also be made online at www.unitedwayofcarboncounty.org.