By SHAJIA AHMAD
Brad Nading/Telegram Liz Scheopner is a volunteer for the Finney County United Way.
Before Liz Scheopner volunteered to serve on the board of directors for the Finney County United Way, her company was a pacesetting business for the agency's annual campaign drive.
Today, the Garden City resident and owner of Scheopner's Water Conditioning not only contributes financially but also with her personal time to the community support organization that raises more than half a million dollars each year for a few dozen area social and health service agencies.
Scheopner, who first joined the board in 2010, is this year's campaign drive chairwoman, a position she finds both challenging and rewarding.
"There's a lot of behind-the-scenes work that needs done," she said. "Come October, November, we panic because there's a lot riding on (the annual campaign drive). We feel very passionate that what we do is very important, and to know that we might let anyone down is difficult. But, we know from past experience it all seems to wrap up and we make our goal, but you never let your guard down. You always want to stay on top of it."
The United Way, with a two-member staff and 15-member board of directors, has raised about $550,000 each year for the past several years to help support social service, health-related, and other community nonprofits working to make people's lives better.
For the all-volunteer board members who offer their time free of compensation, this time of year in the spring is hectic, according to Scheopner.
This is when board members like her, along with United Way staff, make personal visits to the different area agencies that have applied for grant funding, typically between 20 and 25 a year, from all across the community.
"Every board member doesn't go to every site visit, but even three a week out of your busy work week takes a lot of time," she said. "Mostly, we've had the same agencies year after year, but that's not a given. They still have to put in that applications and be approved by the board. It is a major grant application, (with) a lot of things they have to meet before we feel they're worthy of the community's money."
When those site visits are complete, the board meets several evenings for a few weeks to hear presentations again from the various agencies seeking funding. Those second meetings allow board members to hear more information and ask their own questions, all in the efforts of further evaluating the grant applicants.
"This is a busy time," Scheopner said. "Even our paid employees are not paid enough. They put in a lot of hours they're not paid for."
Then, later in the drive in the summer and fall, she and others make visits to various businesses and organizations around town to raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars necessary to reach each year's target.
Scheopner said talking to the community about United Way donations and how their dollars benefit the community has to come from the heart.
"They can see right through you. They know whether you're compassionate about it or not," she said. "I do just a fraction, truly, compared to what (the United Way director) does. ... But I've also learned to become a good speech maker, which was never a strong suit of mine in my past."
Scheopner said one of her favorite United Way partner agencies is Miles of Smiles, a therapeutic horse-riding program for people of all ages with disabilities. The local program, which has been a United Way beneficiary for several years, offers its clients the physical and emotional benefits of equine therapy.
"(Miles of Smiles) is really near and dear to my heart because I've known a lot of handicapped kids over the years, and I can see them really blooming after they've gotten involved," she said.
The United Way advocate added that now in her third year on the board, she has the opportunity to serve one more three-year term. And it's definitely something she is considering to do at the start of 2013.
"If I ever got in the position to be able to give back, I really strongly wanted to," she said. "I feel like the United Way is a great way to do that."
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