This story was written by Jared Stonesifer and comes courtesy of the Beaver County Times.
HOPEWELL TWP. — If you want to know how much the United Way of Beaver County means to Gus Cassida, just listen to his voice break with emotion.
Cassida, of Center Township, works as a salesman in his job, so talking to people comes naturally to him. But speaking in front of 230 people Thursday morning at a breakfast event at the Club at Shadow Lakes, Cassida struggled to talk about how meaningful the United Way is to his family. That’s because Cassida’s young son Jack, who has autism, attends Camp Achieva, one of the many local programs supported by the United Way. The program offers a summer camp that provides routine and stability for special needs children that often don’t have the kind of summers away from school that other children have.
“For kids with special needs or disabilities, it’s summertime but nobody is calling to have play dates,” Cassida said. Cassida was one of several speakers to give personal testimonies at the United Way of Beaver County’s kickoff breakfast Thursday morning. The annual breakfast serves as the kickoff for the United Way’s annual fundraising campaign, which runs from September to May.
The United Way last year shattered its goal of raising $775,000 and instead collected $900,000. This year’s goal has been set at $800,000, and Executive Director Mike Rubino and his staff already have begun the lengthy process of exceeding that goal. Despite the fact that Rubino and his staff routinely exceed their own fundraising goals, he acknowledged this year might be tougher. Uncertainty surrounds both FirstEnergy-owned power plants in Shippingport, which could drastically affect how much the company and its workers give to the United Way.
FirstEnergy and its employees are collectively the largest donors in Beaver County, he said, and the United Way is bracing for a $30,000 to $40,000 drop this year from FirstEnergy alone. In addition, Rubino said a very generous matching gift that was offered last year wasn’t offered again this year, and the new federal tax law implemented earlier this year could affect how much people can itemize donations on their returns.
“Our goal is still more than last year, but it’s going to be a challenge,” Rubino said. “People will come through,” he said. “I already had people telling me they were going to leave the breakfast event, go home and immediately get on the internet. People will do everything they can.”
Anyone interested in donating can do so by visiting the United Way of Beaver County’s new website. That website can be found at www.unitedwaybeaver.org.