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United Way campaign kicks off

The United Way of Southeast Missouri hosted their annual campaign kickoff on Thursday, Aug.24, at the Isle Casino.

Executive Director Elizabeth Shelton thanked all those who attended the event and supported United Way. In the past year, the organization was able to start a Boys and Girls Club in Scott City, a 4-H Junior Leaders Club in Scott County and raised over $73,000 to help Perryville families affected by the tornado in February.

“Thanks to you and hundreds more like you, United Way of Southeast Missouri has helped to feed, shelter, educate, and clothe thousands of neighbors and friends across southeast Missouri,” Shelton said.

Jay Knudtson, the executive vice president of First Missouri State Bank, and his son Gunnar Knudtson, who helped launch the local ride sharing app carGO earlier this year, were announced as the co-chairs for this year’s campaign.

They also recognized Merideth Pobst, the communications and foundation director for the Jackson R-2 School District, for hosting the campaign last year.

“To be standing up here with my son as the co-chair of the event is truly a dream come true,” Jay Knudtson said.

They started this year’s campaign by asking for donations to fund three projects totaling $2,500. The three projects were just a handful of projects United Way tries to fund each year.

“There are hundreds of worthy candidates and organizations that are competing for donations from the United Way, just in southeast Missouri,” Gunnar Knudtson said.

The first was a $500 project from the Boy Scouts of America to start up a troop at Jefferson Elementary School. The $500 would cover the uniforms, books and other necessary costs involved for the 10 students already signed up for the program and four adults. The Boy Scouts are also planning on starting a troop at Franklin Elementary School.

“We’ve had programs there before that haven’t quite succeeded as well, and part of that unfortunately is because, as a community, the parents aren’t really able to afford scouting,” Ashley Duerst, a district executive for the Scouts, explained. Besides this special project, United Way covers membership costs for youth who can’t afford scouting, as well as “camperships” that allow those children the funds to go to camps.

“We want to ensure that every youth in the community has the opportunity to have a scouting experience, whether they have the financial means or not,” Duerst said.

The next program was from the Community Caring Council to fund their Passport to Summer program next year. The project, in collaboration with the Boys and Girls Club, provides a summer camp for at-risk youth. They asked for $1,000 to cover 50 kids in the program.

Melissa Stickel, the executive director for the Community Caring Council, explained the organization does a breadth of services including housing assistance for the homeless, utility assistance for those who can’t keep their lights on, dental screenings for kids, crisis intervention and re-entry programs.

United Way has been a partner of Community Caring Council since it was started three decades ago. They fund the council’s Community Case Management program that provides salaries and the Successful Parenting program that provides court-mandated parenting classes.

The last project was from Voices for Children, formally called CASA. They asked for $1,000 to start a Reach for the Future program. The program will be for youth who age out of foster care and no longer have any assistance. Voices for Children will be a support network for these individuals to help them reach for a college diploma, a vocational certificate or to be successful in their job.

“Unfortunately the statistics for those kids who age out of foster care without any support or intervention are really, really bad,” Executive Director Linda Nash said. “Within two to four years, 25 percent of them are homeless, 48 percent of them are unemployed, 25 percent of the kids and youth that have been in foster care will develop post-traumatic stress disorder. That is higher than our combat veterans.”

Voices for Children helps foster kids both find permanent homes and be prepared if they age out of the system.

Nash said she is grateful for the funding given by United Way, as well as the credibility United Way provides as they recruit volunteers.

“The good thing is we can advocate for these kids,” Nash said. “The bad thing is that there were 375 kids in care in our circuit last year, and we can’t advocate for all of those because of not enough volunteers and of course, money.”

At the kickoff, $1,755 of the goal of $2,500 was raised but Shelton added that United Way would find the remaining funds to finance these three new projects.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past five years. He can be reached at

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