Huxley native doing great things with Story County United Way

Ronna Lawless
Huxley native doing great things with Story County United Way

As marketing director for the United Way of Story County, Huxley native Sara Wilson helps raise millions of dollars for education, income and health programs for area residents. Her love of service started early as she was growing up in the Ballard community.

“Aside from when I went to college, I’ve lived in Huxley almost my entire life,” said Wilson, a 1999 Ballard grad who then attended Drake University. She lives in Huxley with her husband Travis and their children, Max, 6, and Zoe, 5. Sara is the daughter of Jeff and Sheri Gatchel of Huxley. Her brother Matt, a 1998 Ballard grad, also lives in Huxley.

Wilson has been marketing director for United Way of Story County since February of 2013, but prior to that she put in 10 years as a volunteer with the organization.

“I was always incredibly involved and had lots of volunteer opportunities in the Ballard community while I was growing up.” Aside from being involved in athletics, Wilson was also active in drama, music and student council. “Growing up in Huxley helped me learn the importance of giving back,” she said. “I’ve always been someone who enjoys service.”

She first started to think about a career in public relations as a senior in high school, when a special teacher suggested the idea. Karen Harrison, now retired but then a French teacher at Ballard, gave her the idea, and that idea blossomed into the career Wilson enjoys today.

“We raised $2,058,833 last year and have a goal of $2.1 million for our 2015 Live United campaign,” Wilson said. “In addition to funding education, income and health programs through the ASSET process, we also granted more than $155,000 to about 40 different programs at nonprofit organizations last year.”

One of the philosophies of the United Way is that education, income and health programs are the building blocks for a good quality of life.

With more than 6,000 donors countywide, Ballard has more than 400 of them. That figure, however, does not include people who live in the Ballard area but work elsewhere and donate through their workplaces. In Story County, there are more than 200 volunteers working for the 2015 Live United campaign, and Ballard has a cabinet of 11 individuals.

A recent United Way of Story County fundraiser was the 16th annual Golf Fore Kids event, held last Friday. With 34 teams of four participating, the event received more sponsorship than ever before, with an increase of $4,500. Silent auction of items and services generously donated raised $4,000. The event was held at the Ames Golf and Country Club, and this year partnering agencies sat at holes so that the participants could learn more about the good works they are supporting. “It’s a good cause and golfers get a chance to learn about different partnering agencies.”

The success of the Golf Fore Kids event, as well as the United Way’s other events and programs, can be attributed to “phenomenal support from the community,” Wilson said. Golf Fore Kids raised more than $24,000, which will be used for grants for children and family programs this year. Previous grant recipients have included: Project Smyles at the Ames Public Library, Beloit Summer School and Crisis Childcare at Lutheran Services in Iowa, Children in the Middle classes at Legal Aid Society, physical recreation at Youth and Shelter Services, the After-School Kids Club in Zearing and more.

In September, the Ballard community will be having its first series of a program called Women With Initiative. The five-week long course focuses on financial education for women and typically has 5-10 women per class. When they are finished, there is an opportunity for a college scholarship. Also, each woman is assigned a mentor in the community who continues to encourage her financial health. More information about this program will be available soon. Watch the Tri-County Times for details.

The Women With Initiative program is one of many ways the United Way of Story County helps local residents. “United Way is a strategic leader in building a countywide partnership and improving the lives of its residents,” Wilson said. “By working for United Way, I’m following my heart,” she said. “I have an extreme interest in making a difference.”