United Way Quad Cities kicked off its annual community campaign with a 50th “birthday” bash Wednesday with about 350 civic, business, labor and philanthropic leaders at the Waterfront Convention Center in Bettendorf.

The event focused on the importance of corporate philanthropy, unity,  caring and generosity to achieve the Rise United 2030 goals that United Way announced in May 2021, according to a release from the nonprofit.

Mara Downing, Vice President of Global Communications at John Deere and United Way’s Board Chair, kicked off the event by welcoming LaDrina Wilson, owner of Iman Consulting and CEO of the Quad Cities Chamber, and Dave Herrell, CEO of Visit Quad Cities, as the United Way’s 2022 Community Campaign co-chairs.

This year, challenges persist in the areas of education, economic mobility and health that were magnified by the coronavirus pandemic, speakers said. And those needs are on top of decades-long systemic social and racial inequities in underserved populations.

The rallying themes for the kickoff were “together we can” and “make caring famous,” United Way said in the release.

Rene Gellerman is president/CEO of United Way QC.

United Way Quad Cities’ president/CEO Rene Gellerman cited the organization’s continued focus on its Rise United 2030 community goals and impact areas of education, income and health to drive progress over the next eight years. The vision states, “Together, every Quad Citizen, regardless of race or ZIP code, has the opportunity and access to achieve their full potential.”

“But, goals don’t mean much without action and resources,” said Gellerman. “I’m excited to announce a group of dedicated companies and donors who believe in these goals have already come forward to build momentum with the launch of this campaign.”

It was announced that early leaders and donors have helped United Way raise $2.4 million in just eight weeks, outpacing last year’s fundraising at this same time by $250,000.

“This is a strong statement at the beginning of our annual campaign about the commitment and resolve we have in this region to generate the resources necessary to build a stronger future in education, income and health,” Gellerman said. “And, while this is great news on our kick-off day, I have to remind you that we are just getting started.”

United Way QC partners with nearly 280 companies annually to engage employees as volunteers, donors and advocates in the work to improve community conditions for all. Through United Way’s workplace campaigns, employees support the nonprofit’s programs and partners with time and contributions that help more students graduate high school prepared for college or career, more adults find pathways to economic mobility and more residents to live healthy, happy and productive lives.

Three birthday wishes

Gellerman shared three wishes for the community to help celebrate its semicentennial, and further solidify funding for United Way’s programs and implementing partners, which, thanks to the more than 9,000 United Way donors last year helped nearly 75,000 residents.

Those wishes are, by June 30:

  • 5,000 volunteers recruited;
  • 50 companies and unions increase their annual United Way investment by 50%;
  • And 5,000 new or existing donors to give $10 or more a month than they did last year, resulting in $650,000 of new investments in our community.

The caring assignment

The party also included a big surprise for 50 young people, who each received $100 in “seed funding” to multiply and invest in a local cause, person, purpose or group that they are passionate about and report back to United Way what they did within 120 days.

United Way QC gave 50 area young people $100 each on Wednesday as seed funding to multiply for good works in the community.

The 50 college and high school students, labor apprentices and young professionals, primarily under the age of 25, signed up for the leadership development project called “the Caring Assignment” based on referrals from professors and business and organized labor leaders without knowing the full scope of their assignment.

Gellerman cheered on the students as she handed out $100 bills, “This will take a willing heart, but when we have a community — this community of friends who are rooting for you and helping when needed — we can do amazing things.”

There are four conditions for the Caring Assignment. The participants were told:

  1. The money belongs to the community. The participants can’t spend it on themselves and it should stay in the Quad Cities. 
  2. They should try to multiply it.
  3. The money is to be invested in some cause, person, purpose or group about which the participant has a passion.
  4. Report back to United Way in 120 days on what they did.

The students would be able to lean on Gellerman, Herrell, Wilson and others for coaching, help brainstorming and support for their assignment.

LaDrina Wilson of Davenport is the new CEO of the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce.

Meanwhile, corporate sponsors including Northwest Bank and Trust have agreed to match and multiply funds raised by the Caring Assignment participants to invest in United Way and help assure more can be done to improve education, income and health in the community. 

“The Caring Assignment is a small but powerful example of the impact of your collective giving and investments with United Way,” Gellerman told the audience at the kick-off event. “It is about each one of us doing our part and multiplying our ability to do more for those who need it most.”

“I know we’re going to hear some amazing stories,” she said. “I believe these young people will inspire hope, generosity and kindness across our region. And, I’m excited as I think about celebrating next spring and proudly proclaiming that all our wishes came true, we’ve achieved our campaign goal of $7.3 million, and we’re ‘making caring famous’ in the Quad Cities.”

To learn more about United Way Quad Cities, visit www.unitedwayqc.org or call 563-355-4310.