United Way of Fort McMurray launches $8M campaign

By Kiran Malik-Khan, Connect Contributor


The United Way of Fort McMurray brought the community together to portray the message of their newly launched $8M community campaign – This is Home” – at the Shell Place on September Shell Place on September 10. Photo by Greg Halinda, Greg Halinda Photography

In a year where much remains uncertain, the community’s many needs are one certainty. And, it is these needs that the United Way of Fort McMurray will set out to meet with its recently launched $8M community campaign.

The festive event featuring a free pancake breakfast, sponsored by DMG Events, producers of the Oil Sands Trade Show and Conference was held on September 10 at the Shell Place Grand Ballroom with hundreds in attendance including Mayor Blake and MLA Tany Yao.

Local community leader, Colin Hartigan, this year’s campaign chair introduced everyone to four-year-old, Koston Hulan, who lost his house in the May wildfires.

“This is what resiliency looks like,” said Hartigan, as he spoke to a smiling Koston, who shared his house had “got on fire; and fell down,” adding he loved his new house.

“Today’s campaign is the start of an extraordinary year for the United Way,” said Hartigan in an interview with Connect Weekly.

The United Way of Fort McMurray campaign chair Colin Hartigan speaks with four-year-old Koston Hulan about the loss of his house due to the May wildfire. Photo by Kiran Malik-Khan, Connect Weekly

The United Way of Fort McMurray campaign chair Colin Hartigan speaks with four-year-old Koston Hulan about the loss of his house due to the May wildfire. Photo by Kiran Malik-Khan, Connect Weekly

“Last year, 100 percent of our organizations didn’t get 100 percent of the money. The needs have risen. The 12-week campaign is run by our amazing workplace chairs, who help our social profit agencies. The fire money we raised is going to immediate needs, but the annual community campaign is for long-term needs,” explained Hartigan.

“We don’t even fully know yet what our agencies need, but we know Canadian Mental Health Association’s need went up 2000 percent. We’ve got to be there to fulfill that.”

As for the $8M goal, Hartigan said, the idea was “based on need. We have planned well in case we fall short. But, people can volunteer, and make a difference. It would be irresponsible to lower the goal, based on the need we see, especially given this year.”

“I love Fort McMurray. I moved here in 1986, and it’s home. This is why when our workplace chairs picked the theme of ‘This is Home,’ we settled on it very quickly.”

Diane Shannon, Executive Director, United Way, spoke emotionally at the launch of her ninth and last campaign, retiring this December.

“I still remember when I fell in love with Fort McMurray. It was coming down Beacon Hill, I knew I was home,” said Shannon, who thanked her staff, board of directors, and all the volunteers as well as the community for everything.

Speaking to Connect she talked about the critical importance of this year’s campaign.

“We know after the initial impact of the fires, we need our 30 agencies, running about 70 programs to be on their feet, and provide community services. This is also a wonderful opportunity to come together to make this community strong, resilient and a positive place to raise families. Our tagline of ‘This is Home’ resonates deeply with me. As we are rebuilding we feel it in our hearts – this is home, fighting for it, ready to dig in, and making sure it stays that way.”

As for the member social profits, Shannon notes, the United Way is hearing a variety of feedback.

“A lot of agencies are still getting their feet back under them, and determining community needs. Others continue to struggle due to the impact of having lost fundraising events, or staff, figuring out what the future looks like. However, they know they provide critical services, and want to get back.”

At the conclusion of the event, attendees were ushered to the adjacent indoor turf field to help spell out the word H-O-M-E. Russell Thomas, Director of Communications & Community Impact for the United Way, dubbed the activity full of “beautiful energy.”

“It was fascinating that the exact amount of people needed to create the word Home were here. It was absolutely perfect. It’s so gratifying when an idea the team put together comes to fruition.”

“This year is about looking beyond the immediate present, which is very challenging. We have to think of Fort McMurray as a viable, sustainable community. The need is for more than $8M. I’m optimistic; we can do it,” Thomas said.

The community campaign ends on November 18. To donate online visit: https://donate.unitedway.ca

– Connect Weekly –