OPINION

Along the Way: Chalk up success for Coleman, United Way stage events

David Dix
Supporters arrive at the Portage County United Way kickoff at Midway Drive-in Theater.

The kickoff events for the Portage County United Way campaign and the climax of Coleman Professional Services “Stay at Home” fundraiser were both successful despite being unfortunately scheduled the same evening, Thursday, Sept. 24.

Coleman’s Kathy Myers told Kent Rotary that “Stay at Home” raised $98,500 and, she added, “we are hopeful some generous person will come up with the $1,500 needed to put us at $100,000.”

The money supports the delivery of mental health services. The “Stay at Home” was a COVID-19 correct version of Coleman’s annual “Right at Home” event in which a host family every year opens its home for donors who come to bid on art and other items bid on in a silent auction. Over its 40 years, “Right at Home” has been a huge success.

The Portage County United Way’s kickoff event is not a fundraiser, but a celebration to hype the annual campaign to raise money to support more than 30 volunteer agencies that deliver services to those in need in Portage County.

In what I believe may have been its most memorable kickoff event ever in the United Way’s 50 years in Portage County, sponsorships and donations secured by Bill Childers, the organization’s executive director, left it nearly $13,000 ahead, the money going the annual campaign, which has scaled down its goal to $600,000 because of COVID-19

Held at the Midway Drive-In Theater, the event drew more than 200 people whose 100 plus vehicles were parked at least one space apart to maintain social distancing. Those who attended enjoyed light rock performed by Dr. Steve Dean and his band, the LRB, plus an incredible fireworks display paid for by Ametek thanks to Vice President Matt French, and the chance to bid on baskets from donors as widespread as Guido’s in Ravenna to the Portage Park District Foundation and Mazzulo’s Market in Aurora.

Bill Childers introduced a very effective video prepared by Kent State that enable the partnering volunteer agencies to tell their story. Jean Booth, president of the United Way Board and a long-time volunteer, contributed to the story. Other volunteers on the video were: Rich Wanders of Aurora; Bridget Mahoney of McMaster Carr; Marilyn Sessions of Hometown Bank, Karlo Petrak of Step 2; Rod Ingram of NEOMED; and Marquice Seward of Kent Social Services. Jessica Vargo, chief financial officer for the Kent State University Foundation and the treasurer of the United Way Board, knocked it out of the park when describing the “gut-wrenching” needs of people our United Way serves.

Omar Vizquel, the great Cleveland Indians shortstop of the 1990s, made a surprise appearance at the video’s conclusion asking Portage Countians to be generous in supporting the United Way. The evening also offered attendees the choice of two free movies: “Goonies” or “Major League.”

Julia Colecchi, the United Way’s new director of development and marketing, organized and orchestrated the kickoff with the great style and competence that runs in the Colecchi family. Her father, Robert, is retired from the Kent Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Service and is the person who last year during a pickup basketball game saved the life of a player who had a near fatal heart attack. Julia’s uncle is Steve Colecchi, the talented attorney who ran Robinson Memorial Hospital for 24 years and now serves as president of Hattie Larlham, a Mantua-based organization whose reach extends into Columbus and which employs more than 1,000 people.

Volunteers helping Julia were: Marilyn Sessions of Hometown Bank, Craig Holcomb of Davey Tree; Rich Wanders of Aurora; Karen Cipriano, just retired from UH Portage Medical Center; Karlo Petrak of Step 2; Todd Kamenash of Kent State; Emily Holt, a KSU graduate of the MBA program who interned with the United Way; Barbara Boltz, the KSU stalwart who runs the United Campaign on the campus; Jessica Vargo and Judith Yasenosky, both of Kent State.

As in the past Hometown Bank and Portage Community Bank lead the Pacesetter companies in running their United Way campaigns early. The Davey Tree Expert Co. is currently conducting its employee campaign remotely because employees mostly have to work from home because of COVID19. Childers and Colecchi are hoping to run campaigns in other local companies possibly using Zoom.

The need is desperate so please be generous.

David E. Dix is a former publisher of the Record-Courier.