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It was an evening of celebration and recognition at the Timberlake Lodge on March 23rd as United Way of 1000 Lakes hosted the annual Campaign Celebration and Best of Awards. With more than 140 in attendance, the program brought people to their feet, raised voices, and celebrated everyone who helped to change lives and build a strong Itasca Area throughout the past year. 


United Way announced that individuals, corporations and foundations have helped raise $275,000 thus far with a goal of $300,000.

Awards were presented to individuals who have demonstrated dedication and leadership in their workplace and community. The evening’s keynote presenter, Dr. Kathy Annette, President and CEO of the Blandin Foundation, was awarded the top CEO honor with the “Best Company Leadership” Award. 

Dr. Annette spoke about powerful connections, networks and the many possibilities that can be achieved when we leverage each other’s resources and work together. She addressed Itasca County’s emerging workforce and employment needs, “United Way was a partner in this very fresh and honest look at our assets and opportunities as a community. It’s one of the ways your organization helps to bring our community together around topics that can be difficult to talk about—and even more difficult to tackle.”  

Ambassador of the Year award went to Suli Furman for her contributions to the “Change the Story” campaign. Suli was recognized after giving a heartfelt message to the audience recapping her fight with addiction and overcoming it with the help of United Way supported programs.

“I received help by Baby Steps who supplied us with diapers, Bridges Kinship who held my daughter's hand when I couldn’t, YMCA, Kootasca, and my personal game changer, the Itasca Wellness Court,” stated Suli.

Other Best of award winners included:
 Coordinator of the Year – Diane Meyer, MDI 
 Best Year Round Partnership – Timberlake Lodge 
 Best Employee Engagement – Minnesota Diversified Industries (MDI)
•  Best Rising Star – Woodland Bank 

United Way recognized volunteers for their outstanding service and dedication to bettering the Itasca community. Volunteer of the Year recipients included Hannah Erickson and Baylie Norris (Greenway High School students serving on the Minnesota Youth Council), Gary Heinzer (Grace House), Evelyn Fielding (Support Within Reach), Roberta Truempler (ElderCircle), and the Bigfork School Lunch Buddies (Bridges Kinship Mentoring). 

Recognition was also given to outstanding employee campaigns. Among those were Essentia Health, ISD 318, Itasca County, Target, Lake Country Power, ASV, Bigfork Valley Hospital, Grand Rapids State Bank, and Timberlake Lodge. UPS, Grand Itasca Clinic and Hospital, MDI, Woodland Bank, Paul Bunyan Communications, and Lake Time Magazine were also recognized for their corporate contributions and sponsorship support.

Lastly, the board of directors elected officers and welcomed new board members: Madeline Cook (Flowers by Jeanne); Kayla Schubert (Promise Fellow); Jamie Nielson (ASV); Suli Furman (El Potro); and Diane Meyer (MDI).

The campaign doesn't officially close until June. According to officials there is still work to be done to sustain support to local organizations for the 2017-2019 funding cycle. 
“With the help of our partner agencies, we help people win whatever battle they might be fighting, with hopes that the resulting confidence, the newfound support network, or that inner-voice, will propel them to keep winning,” Luke Francisco, United Way board president.

Individuals and businesses who haven’t held campaigns or pledged yet still have an opportunity to do so. The need is great, with agency requests up 30% from prior year.
To make a tax-deductible donation, one-time or recurring gifts, visit and click on the donate button. Checks can also be mailed or dropped off at United Way at 350 NW 1st Ave., Suite A, Grand Rapids. Call 218-999-7570, for information about starting an employee giving program at your company, as well as bill-me options and stock and security gifts.


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