© Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Balloons were literally popping everywhere at the Delta Prince Edward Hotel and Convention Centre on Thursday as the United Way of P.E.I. kicked off its annual fundraising campaign. People who attended the kickoff bought balloons for $5 each for 50/50 numbers inside. From left, are Doug Burton, president of the United Way of P.E.I., Jessica MacKenzie, acting executive director of the Charlottetown Boys and Girls Club, and Keith Lambe, regional manager of Bell Aliant who acted as MC.
Whether it's helping a homeless youth turn his life around or buying a birthday cake for a man who celebrated four months of sobriety, the United Way of P.E.I. is making a difference.
On Thursday, the charitable organization which topped the $1-million mark, for the first time, in donations last year held a kickoff luncheon in Charlottetown to get the message out that this year's fundraising drive is underway.
Doug Burton, president of the United Way of P.E.I., said their goal is to hit $1 million again.
"We hope to do that again this year and I'm confident we will,'' Burton said. "It's going to be tough but I think we'll pull it off.''
The United Way helps fund a number of programs and services across the province every year by focusing on community needs. These programs and services represent five groups - families, children, youth, seniors and people with disabilities.
This year, the United Way has identified 23 priority. They're hoping to establish and maintain a venue for blind or partially sighted Islanders between 18 and 30 to meet regularly as a group to break the barrier of isolation and ease the burden on families. The United Way is also developing a wrap around program through the John Howard Society to help people with disabilities meet their own needs through the assistance of a personal support team.
"Your money stays on P.E.I.,'' is a message Burton repeats over and over.
Jessica MacKenzie, acting executive director of the Charlottetown Boys and Girls Club, said the United Way has supported their programs for years.
"We can see the changes we make. Sometimes we wish we could do more,'' MacKenzie said.
Citing one example, MacKenzie pointed to the Survival Centre for Youth, a pilot program created for homeless youth through funds raised by the United Way.
"Soon after receiving a grant from United Way we were able to sustain the programming and offer hygene kits, youth worker support, hot showers, laundry services, housing and job searches and the group made hot meals five days a week.''
Today, the centre gets more than 800 visits per year from people ranging in age from 16 to 29. Support includes how to deal with difficulties with getting along with parents to those with prescription drug addiction.
She also cited an example where the centre supported a man who came to them homeless, jobless, discouraged and struggling with mental health issues. They helped the man find stability and access affordable housing.
"A year and a half later we helped this individual find employment and he now thrives independently off all forms of social assistance.''
Burton said the goal is to help as many people as possible.
"We envision a society in which all Islanders enjoy a dignified, healthy lifestyle as contributing members of caring and supportive communities.''