United Way of Carbon County began its 2014 campaign kickoff on Thursday at the Lehighton American Legion.

During the kickoff, leaders announced that this year's goal is to raise $70,000, which will in turn support 18 Carbon County agencies that directly help members of the Carbon County community.

The program began with an unveiling of the group's television commercial, which will air throughout the county on CNN, ABC Family, Fox News, HGTV, Lifetime, The Weather Channel, TLC, and TV-13.

"Pretty much wherever you turn, whatever your favorite shows, you'll likely see this commercial," said Greg Bott, VP of campaign for United Way of Carbon County. "It really highlights what United Way is all about, and why we're here."

The 30-second clip was produced by Meister-Home Productions, which donated their services to United Way of Carbon County, and showcases the agencies and people helped by the local United Way.

Bott noted United Way is run by volunteers, and serves to "give, advocate, volunteer."

"We have a lofty goal this year, $70,000," he added. "This is really where we need your help, to drum up support and kick off the campaign.

Board President Dr. Lisa Bleicher noted that the group raised about $9,000 during their first annual fundraiser, Cruise to the Music. The remainder of their funds will need to come from additional fundraisers, donations, dress down days and payroll deductions.

"You don't have to be a big business to have payroll deductions," she added, noting that even smaller businesses can contact United Way to request information about voluntary payroll deductions.

"One of our mottos is to live united, and to work together," she said, noting the importance of all members supporting the drive.

"We're looking for new ideas, to help you, to help us. These funds help us to survive and to get the funds we need to support your local agencies."

Steve Miller, the Vice President of Lehigh Valley Classified, spoke briefly about how his company is supporting United Way this year. His publication is available free of charge throughout the county. For every business that advertises in the classified publication, the company will donate $1 to United Way.

"If we have 200 businesses advertising in one month, we will donated $200 that month to United Way," he said.

He noted that local nonprofit agencies looking for volunteers should also contact him for advertising opportunities.

"We're looking to help the community in any way that we can," said Miller.

Representatives from two agencies supported by United Way also spoke during the kickoff.

The Arc of NEPA noted that they have supported children and adults with developmental disabilities, including those in Carbon Count, for nearly 60 years ago.

Their primary goal in Carbon County is to provide recreational and social activities to their local clients, which also gives caregivers a respite.

"Without United Way's support, these events wouldn't be possible," said Maryclaire Kretsch, of the Arc of NEPA. "Social outlets like this, we take them for granted."

Tanya Olaviany, a representative from Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the Bridge, asked those in attendance to close their eyes and look back on their childhood.

"Who were the people who taught you to bake, to throw a football? Who would you talk to about the bully at the bus stop? What would your life be like without these people?" she asked. "I bet it would have taken a different path."

She spoke of the importance of mentorship, particularly for at-risk youth or those children whose parents are struggling to get by. Studies have shown that with mentorship, these children are more likely to do better in school and less likely to use drugs or alcohol.

Both agencies noted that funds are used for more than sponsoring events. Recruiting, training and screening volunteers is an expensive, but critical, process.

"Where would we be without United Way funds?" asked Bleicher. "We'd be in tough shape. In this campaign, we are one. It's all critical that we work together. If we work together, we can make a huge difference."

Agencies supported by United Way include the American Red Cross of the Greater Lehigh Valley, The Arc of NEPA, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the Bridge, Carbon County action Committee, CTC Manufacturing, CareerLink Human Resources Center, Diakon Lutheran Services, Family Promise, Girl Scouts of the Heart of PA, Girl Scouts of NEPA, Healthy Smiles, North Penn Legal Services, Palmerton Meals on Wheels, Pathstone/Head Start, Peaceful Knights, Penn State Extension, Prosper Project, Shepherd House, and The Salvation Army.

Bleicher noted that United Way of Carbon County continues to look for volunteers and board members to expand their reach and community awareness.

"We're really looking to grow and expand, and to get out in the public eye and get more involved."

Community members looking to volunteer should contact Bleicher at (570) 242-2466.

For more information or to support the United Way campaign, call (888) 533-3904 or go to www.unitedwayofcarboncounty.org.