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Mizzou stands united

Tigers team up for a community cause

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  • Photo by Shane Epping
  • Published: Nov. 4, 2011
Jamie Scheppers

Jamie Scheppers, project and operations manager for MU Web Communications, organized a University Affairs division-wide chili cook-off that raised more than $300 for the Heart of Missouri United Way. Including online pledges, so far the division has donated $3,451 during Mizzou's annual campaign.

Tigers are giving back. Since the mid-September start of Mizzou's Heart of Missouri United Way fundraising campaign, MU employees have generated nearly $600,000 in donations to fund community programs supporting education, income, health and emergency needs in mid-Missouri.

Options for giving are plentiful. Sign up for payroll deduction. Write a check. Donate online.

Or throw a party.

Competitive cooking

Last winter’s brutal weather found the staff of the Division of University Affairs in want of hot food and heartwarming camaraderie. The solution: a chili-for-charity cook-off. Culinarily inclined staff members created palate-pleasing concoctions while colleagues paid to sample the dishes and vote for their favorites. The lunch raised more than $200 for the Central Missouri Humane Society, charity of choice for winning chili donor Chris Koukola, division leader and assistant to the chancellor.

Inspired by the results, this year the staff took the same approach to Mizzou’s United Way campaign, upping the competition with innovative ingredients — cashews, pumpkin, coffee — to the delight of chili cook-off organizer Jamie Scheppers.

“I’m a foodie; I liked tasting the chilies,” says Scheppers, operations and project manager for Web Communications. “It gives me new ideas to try the next time I want to cook.”

The winner, senior information specialist Ryan Gavin, took the (paper) crown with a roasted chicken chili, securing a $300 donation for the organization Gavin selected, United Way partner agency Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Missouri.

The win hit close to home for guest Brad Ekwerekwu, United Way campaign loaned executive and former Mizzou football wide receiver. As a child in Houston, Ekwerekwu was a little brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, and he experienced the program’s benefits first hand.

“I’m living testimony that it works. You can stay on the right track and be successful,” says Ekwerekwu, who now works in student services in MU Athletics while earning a doctorate in educational and counseling psychology. “The more and more I learn about United Way, I see that it’s obviously beneficial for the community. That’s what it’s about. If we live and work and play here, we want it to be the best it can be. If there are people who are less fortunate, we want to help them out.”

University Affairs wasn’t the only division to find a way to donors’ hearts through their taste buds. Campus Facilities held a chili cook-off on Halloween. Five staff members judged 22 entries for color, consistency, taste, aroma and aftertaste. First prize went to Brian Brinkmann of Space Planning and Management, though the people’s choice was the chili made by Rich Frieden of Landscape Services. Combined with a pay-$1-to-wear-jeans-to-work campaign, the division's events raised more than $500 for United Way.

In the College of Human Environmental Sciences, Elizabeth Miller and Diane Davis organized a cookie contest. Ten volunteers prepared baked goods for a delighted panel of sweet-toothed judges, raising $180. The two winning bakers received football tickets, donated by Professors Larry Ganong and Marilyn Coleman, and basketball tickets, donated by Professor Sandy Rikoon.

Cookies were popular fundraising choice. University Affairs, Student Financial Aid, the University Registrar and MU Health Care all held bake sales for United Way.

Dunking for a cause

In MU Health Care, eight costume-clad patient care managers and hospital directors took the plunge for the United Way Sept. 30. The brave bosses volunteered to be targets in a dunking booth. Dunkers had the option of paying $3 for one shot or $5 for six. For $25, generous participants could skip the hassle of the toss and just press the button. Altogether, the booth raised $737 this year, the second year MU Health Care has held the dunking booth.

“I lost count of how many times I went in,” says Brenda Jensen, a manager of MU emergency patient care services, dialysis transplant and IV therapy, who was costumed in a school uniform for the occasion. “We had a ringer in the crowd, so once people saw he could hit it every time, I spent most of my time in the water.”

Wayland Taylor, an emergency medical technician who planned the dunking booth in 2010 and 2011, said he wanted to drum up some excitement for the University of Missouri United Way campaign by organizing a fun event that would inspire camaraderie.

“I remembered how the year before, all of the United Way forms were just sitting there in a box, and there wasn’t really any incentive (to get involved),” Taylor said. “I thought, what better way to have a little fun, and have a donation without even really thinking about it?”

Tiger textiles

Tiger quilt

Four MU administrative support staff members invested their time and needlework skills in this intricate Mizzou quilt. The quilt will be sold during a community-wide silent auction taking place during Live United Week, Nov. 14-18.

Donors can make contributions while getting a jump on holiday shopping — Mizzou style. MU administrative support staff members Karen Borgers, Bonita Lenger, Brenda Dennis and Katina Volle in University Hall stitched a tiger-print quilt to be sold at a community-wide silent auction planned for Nov. 14-18 during Live United Week.  The handmade quilt features a combination of tiger stripes and black-and-gold accents, with a quilted tiger paw pattern visible on the back.  

To make a fashion statement while trumping an infamous rival, shoppers can invest in T-shirts. Each year MU and Heart of Missouri United Way compete in a fundraising challenge against KU and the United Way of Douglas County in Lawrence.  Proceeds from One Mizzou Lives United T-shirts support the Heart of Missouri United Way — and help the Tigers beat the Jayhawks. Order shirts online.

Meeting the goal

The Heart of Missouri United Way works with community nonprofit agencies and businesses to focus on four main areas of philanthropy: education, income (financial stability), health, and safety net (emergency needs). The umbrella organization partners with 31 agencies — such as the Rainbow House, the Boys and Girls Club, Job Point and the Voluntary Action Center — 27 of which are located in Columbia.

This year’s overall campaign goal is $3.45 million, “the highest goal we’ve ever had for a community-wide campaign,” says Tim Rich, executive director for the Heart of Missouri United Way. Mizzou’s goal is $690,000, up $40,000 from 2010’s goal. Rich says he was inspired because, despite the university’s hiring and wage freezes, employee contributions have consistently topped themselves from each previous year.

“It’s almost counterintuitive,” he says. “There was one year that individual contributions across the country were in a 10 percent decline, yet in the Columbia area, at least with the United Way, we continue to give more.”

The reasons to give are compelling. According to the United Way:

  • Nearly 40 percent of mid-Missouri public school children live in poverty.
  • Nearly 200 mid-Missouri students drop out of school each year.
  • Nearly 1,500 people are on the waiting list for public housing.
  • More than 6,000 people have lost their jobs.
  • More than 7,000 of our neighbors go hungry each night.

Though donations are essential, the campaign isn't all about money. Organizers want to raise awareness about the needs of fellow mid-Missourians, to encourage advocacy and participation, and to inspire volunteers.

For MU employees and students who want to give financially, the process has been streamlined with new Web-based services that enable donors to give online without the hassle of paperwork while helping the leadership team and campaign chairs to monitor the progress from their desktops. In the final two weeks of the campaign, Mizzou is pushing toward the $690,000 goal — and having fun in the process, in typical Tiger style.

- Reporting by Karen Pojmann and Megan Cassidy

Read more in:  Business, Law & PoliticsFamily & CommunityOn CampusHealth & Medicine

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Last updated: Feb. 22, 2012