BY MEAGAN MARSTON
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS
BANGOR, Maine — The United Way of Eastern Maine kicked off its 2008 Campaign on Thursday with a community celebration in Bass Park.
Employees of many of the organizations involved in the United Way mission walked in a colorful procession around the track as emcees Kara Matuszewski and Chris Faccini of WLBZ NewsCenter 2 introduced each group.
Most groups wore color-coded T-shirts emblazoned with the name of their organization, while others took the dress code to another level with decorative headwear and accessories. After strolling in the midday sun and cool wind, participants were treated to bagged lunches on the bandstand courtesy of local Hannaford stores.
Matuszewski and Facchini greeted the audience and led rounds of applause for each of the 2008 campaign’s leaders before introducing campaign chairman George Eaton, who said he was “overwhelmed by the outpouring of good will and generosity from the community.” Eaton also expressed hope for a successful year to come.
The United Way of Eastern Maine is setting a campaign goal of $2.7 million, which equals last year’s fundraising goal. The money raised supports health and human service agencies throughout Hancock, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Waldo and Washington counties.
Economic conditions are causing an influx of requests for help that exceed available resources, according to Eaton. That’s why the United Way is calling upon individuals to consider, as Eaton put it, donating the cost of one cup of coffee a week to the cause.
Rob Sutcliffe, chairman of the United Way board of directors, succeeded Eaton on the podium to announce the arrival of new executive director John Kuropchak, formerly of United Way of America.
Representatives of several organizations supported by the United Way stood on the gravel track and related personal impressions and anecdotes illustrating “what it means to live United.” Speakers included individuals touched by United Way’s involvement with children, the elderly, the handicapped, young mothers, the poor and the otherwise marginalized.
An Ellsworth man recalled delivering food to an elderly woman participating in the United-Way-supported Meals for Me program. He said she was weak and starving because she was living on only the one meal a day being delivered by program volunteers. He notified the United Way of her predicament and within two days her cupboards were stocked with food, he said.
Three teenage mothers spoke of the help they were getting from the United Way-supported Good Samaritan Agency. One said, “I can’t change the past, but I can change the future,” thanks to the help she is getting.
The event ended with the “Eastern Maine’s Got Talent” competition, a showdown by a trio of acts from contributing businesses.
The first to take the stage was Doug Crate, who performed a stirring cover of a Bill Staines folk song. Group Groove executed a dance number complete with air-guitar choreography to the sounds of “Footloose.” The group’s members teach a fitness dance class of the same name at the Bangor Y at 10:15 a.m. Saturdays.
The winner, decided by the volume of applause, was Heather Parent, who twirled batons to a soundtrack of the Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys. All three acts were awarded T-shirts and bowling passes to the Family Fun Bowling Center in Bangor.