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United Way kicks off 2007 campaign
Becky Strack, Town of Normal Community Development, climbs out of the dunk tank during the United Way kick-off campaign at Fairview Park Tuesday afternoon.(Pantagraph/LORI ANN COOK) June, 5, 2007)

NORMAL - Becky Strack changed into a wetsuit, pulled on a United Way T-shirt, put on her princess tiara and climbed onto the plank in a dunk tank. | Photo gallery

"I'm terrified that everyone will hit (the target) on the first ball," said Strack, the town of Normal's community development/purchasing office associate.

A few minutes later, she was at the bottom of the tank. Her fear had come true: Normal Parks and Recreation Director Garry Little hit the target with the first ball.

The dunk tank was one of several games at an all-town-employee carnival Tuesday at Fairview Park organized to kick off the United Way of McLean County 2007 pacesetter campaign. Normal was selected by United Way to set the bar for this year's countywide fund drive.

"This is a big day for the town, particularly the employees," City Manager Mark Peterson said. "Being the pacesetter is a tremendous honor. We would not have been selected if the United Way hadn't felt very confident we can pull it off. The eyes of the county are on us. We really have to set the bar high."

Patty Martinez, co-chairwoman for the town's campaign, said the goal is to raise 30 percent more than town employees raised last year, or a total of $50,000.

"Our big push is for payroll giving," Martinez said. "We want to get more involved and others to increase what they give."

As an incentive, everyone who increases their payroll deductions by 30 percent will have a chance to win a week of paid vacation.

But that's not the only chance to get some extra time off. A separate raffle for time off is among several drawings the campaign committee designed to raise money for the United Way campaign.

Other fund-raisers will include a golf outing and a Town Idol Night. At a Big Equipment Night, a fire truck, garbage truck and other such pieces of town equipment will be parked outside the Children's Discovery Museum for children to explore.

Martinez said the final event will be a barbecue cook-off and announcement of the final pledge tally, on Aug. 15.

Julie Dobski, chairwoman of the United Way's fund-raising campaign, said money raised in this year's countywide drive will be used to help build strong families, self-sufficient people, a healthy community and successful children.

"The town and the United Way are building a vibrant community," she said.

Greg Cott, president of the United Way of McLean County, said the agency's vision is "to build a stronger, healthier McLean County for everyone."

While in the past the United Way has focused on funding such things as day care for children, Cott said now the agency is focusing on solving community issues such as early childhood development - "making sure every child is ready for kindergarten."

"Our goal is to make long-lasting changes to prevent problems in the first place," he said.

Last year, the United Way's countywide campaign raised a record $4,270,250. Of that, $3,019,778 was allocated to 46 programs operated by 29 local social service agencies.

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