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United Way kickoff soars up, up and away
new deh united way kickoff pic
United Way of Central Kansas 2016 superhero co-chairs pictured at the kickoff event this past Saturday include: Captain America, Marvin Sessler; Ninja Turtle, Karen Sessler; UWCK Director and Iron Girl Julie Bugner-Smith; Tanya Staats with Brian Staats; Batman. Kyle Beckwith with Wonder Woman Tamara Beckwith. Also pictured is Becca Maxwell, Sunflower Bank United Way Board member. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

 Those attending the United Way of Central Kansas’ 2016 campaign opener Saturday night didn’t have to duck into a phone booth for a quick change to become superheroes. Their participation in the event was enough as they raised $27,450 to jump start the annual fundraising drive.

With Superman and other comic book heroes as a theme, the 10th-annual kickoff drew a record crowd to the Great Bend Knights of Columbus hall, UWCK Director Julie Smith said. This marked Smith’s fifth year at the helm of the organization.

“The community came through and will make a difference to the 19 United Way community partners in Barton and Pawnee counties,” she said. Contrary to a common misconception, Smith said 99 percent of the money raised goes directly to the 19 agencies UWCK serves.

Globally, United Way raises about $5 billion annually. Of that, UWCK hopes to raise $275,000 locally this year to support services in Barton and Pawnee County, said Mark Mingenback who served as master of ceremonies for the kickoff.

Other highlights included the ventriloquist Greg Claassen and his assortment of “little friends” who took turns taking pot shots at members of the audience, the meal prepared by the Great Bend Knights of Columbus, a prize drawing and a live auction.

There were also numerous thank yous to volunteers, United Way Board members and the 2016 co-chairs, and the premier of this year’s UWCK video.

This year’s co-chairs include: Representing Ellinwood, Marvin and Karen Sessler; Great Bend, Brian and Tanya Staats; Larned, Kyle and Tamara Beckwith; and the first young leaders co-chairs, Cole Reif and Regan Ochs. MIngenback is taking over as the 2016 Pacesetter chair.

Upcoming UWCK events are:

• Aug. 20 - Water Balloon Showdown-Brad Reed Superintendent of USD 428 team vs. Jefferson Elementary School Staff

• Aug. 27 - Larned Chamber Coffee-Pawnee Valley Community Hospital


• Presentation of Posters at Larned, Ellinwood, and Great Bend Middle Schools

• TBD - Stuff the Bus-Ellinwood and Larned

• Sept. 10 - Great Bend Chamber Coffee-Adams, Brown, Beran and Ball

• Sept. 18 - Ellinwood Chamber Coffee-Location TBD

• Sept. 20 - Harlem Ambassadors, 7 p.m. at Barton Community College

• Sept. 27 - Bowl n’ One, 1-4 p.m. at Walnut Bowl


• Nov. 18 - Fall Jeans Day

• Nov. 7 - Casino Night - Sidewinders, Ellinwood

• Nov. 28 - Lite to Unite Bike, Walk, Run

• November - Charity Tree - Barton Community College


• TBD - Ring bells for Salvation Army

• Campaign comes to close

UWCK supports the following agencies that provide services in Barton and Pawnee Counties: Barton County Youth Care, Barton County Young Men’s Organization, Boy Scouts of America, Caring Hands Daycare Center, Catholic Social Services, Central Kansas CASA, Child Abuse Prevention Education, ElderCare Inc, Ellinwood Heritage Senior Center, Family Crisis Center-Domestic & Sexual Violence Center and FCC Dell Hayden Memorial Child Advocacy Center, Golden Belt Home Health and Hospice, Great Bend Children’s Learning Center, Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland, Habitat for Humanity, Meals on Wheels, Orphan Grain Train, RSVP/Volunteers in Action, Salvation Army, Teen Court, and United Cerebral Palsy. 

The kickoff for the 2017 campaign has already been set, Smith said. It will take place Aug. 13.

For more information, call the office at 620-792-2403 or visit