Organization has broad reach; CFUW offers diverse options for giving back

-Messenger file photo by Hans Madsen
The Community Christmas program at Athletics For Education and Success held its gift and food distribution in 2018 with some volunteer help from a group of area high school students that included, from right, Brandyn Clair, East Sac County High School; Jace Peterson and Rodney Tilawen, both Fort Dodge Senior High School; Ethan Lursen, St. Edmond Catholic High School, and Fort Dodge Senior High students Tysen Kershaw, Jordan Jackson and Grant Barber. Community Christmas, formerly Operation Christmas, was taken over by AFES this year. Families in need are provided with food, gifts and clothing.

Just about everyone favors making Fort Dodge a better place to call home. The opportunities to be part of accomplishing that goal are many. Helping make charitable giving easy and effective is at the heart of the mission of the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way. This nonprofit organization links those with philanthropy in mind with worthy recipients. It is a multifaceted clearinghouse for a wide assortment of projects and causes.

“As a philanthropic organization its sole purpose is to help Fort Dodge and Webster County become a better place to live, work and raise families,” said Randy Kuhlman, the organization’s longtime chief executive officer. “We raise funds and make grants for a wide range of projects, programs and organizations that are focused on improving the quality of life in our community and county.”

In most communities charitable efforts are handled by multiple entities. In Fort Dodge and Webster County, a more consolidated approach has been in place for more than a decade.

The Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way, 24 N. Ninth St., Suite B, was created in July 2007. It merged the functions of United Way of Greater Fort Dodge and the Community Foundation of Fort Dodge and North Central Iowa. (Initially named United Way and Community Foundation of Northwest Iowa, it was subsequently renamed the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way.)

The two components of this enterprise perform complementary but somewhat distinct functions. There is, however, an overarching goal that unites the diverse projects supported – encouraging people to give back to their community. Linking potential donors with the multiple ways that can be accomplished is at the heart of what the organization does, according to Kuhlman.

-Messenger file photo by Hans Madsen
Charles Clayton is director of Athletics For Education and Success, a homegrown organization that has benefited through the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way.

United Way

The United Way component of the organization raises money to support a growing number of programs and services.

“For United Way funds are generally raised in our campaign in the fall,” Kuhlman said. “Then they are distributed out to various organizations, projects and programs that are focused on helping people.”

For 2018-2019, the United Way Community Campaign, which is chaired by Mike Johnson, who is co-owner of Calvert & Johnson Insurance Services Inc., has set raising $425,000 as its target. That’s a bit more than the just over $400,000 contributed in 2017-2018.

A people focus is a fundamental characteristic of the entities and projects United Way supports.

“Our highest priority is focused on helping disadvantaged youth and their families.” Kuhlman said. “We know that a lot of youth are in lower-income families and have a lot of obstacles they are dealing with to achieve in school and to develop in a healthy and positive way. And so, we work with our schools and our partner agencies to help reach those kids and their families to hopefully give them ultimately a better, brighter future.”

He explained that a major part of the money the annual campaign raises is allocated to an array of approximately 40 local nonprofit organizations or projects. It helps these established undertakings have a dependable annual source or revenue.

“We ask them when they apply to be specific about a service or program that they are offering that fits into the United Way mission,” Kuhlman said. “A majority of our charitable donations are to help kids that come from low-income families. Sometimes, to help the kid, you’ve got to help the family. It’s a combination of both.”

In addition to providing a financial assist for the core operations of the partner organizations, some of the United Way monies are held back to address unexpected needs that may occur throughout the year, Kuhlman said.

Meals on Wheels is a program United Way of Greater Fort Dodge has been managing directly since 2017. Barb Michaels, directs this project. It uses volunteers to deliver meals to people – mostly senior citizens – who are homebound and need help getting nutritious, hot meals.

“It fluctuates between 55 and 65 clients a day receiving meals,” Kuhlman said. “We serve a lot more clients than that but many times they pass away or go to a nursing home or in some cases they’ve recovered to a point where they no longer need a delivered meal.”

He said Meals on Wheels in Fort Dodge is continuing to grow and meets an important community need not otherwise being addressed. Currently, about 100 volunteers handle delivery of the meals.

“It also provides a wellness check,” Kuhlman said. “When the volunteers drop the meal off at the door, they knock and the person must come to the door to get the meal.”

That allows the quick summoning of assistance if the client is in distress due to a health issue, such as a fall or some other unexpected occurrence.

Bridging the Gap is a furniture dissemination project that United Way also administers directly. Donated items are made available to families in need.

Wheels for Work is also managed directly by United Way personnel. That project gets donated used vehicles to people who lack the transportation they need to get to work or address other family needs. Fort Dodge Ford Lincoln Toyota is a key partner in this undertaking.

Community Foundation

The Community Foundation piece of the enterprise involves developing charitable funds that support a broad range of community betterment project including those to enhance the quality of life for all Fort Dodgers, Kuhlman said.

The organization oversees a growing number of funds set up by various donors to provide support for a diverse assortment of worthwhile causes.

“We have around 105 funds that we oversee and a little more than $14 million in assets,” Kuhlman said.

The game plan is to provide a flexible assortment of vehicles for philanthropic giving.

“We are encouraging folks to look at the opportunity of establishing a fund with us as a way to give back to their community,” Kuhlman said. “We want to continue to grow our endowment funds and grow the number of funds we have so we can have a greater impact in the community,”

Unlike the United Way focus, which basically targets helping people, the Community Foundation has eclectic aims including improving life in Fort Dodge for everyone by supporting diverse betterment projects.

“The Community Foundation grants are broader,” Kuhlman said. “Grants from the Community Foundation can support any type of organization, project or program that is considered charitable or has a public purpose. It’s much broader.”

Many of the projects backed through the Community Foundation are intended to make Fort Dodge a more appealing place to live. In doing so, they also contribute to economic development efforts because they make this town a more attractive place for corporate investment, Kuhlman said.

One of Kuhlman’s key goals is to increase public awareness about the ways the Community Foundation can facilitate philanthropy.

“A community foundation is a local, public charity established to meet current and future needs in the community by providing opportunities for people and families to give back to their community in meaningful ways,” he said.

The Community Foundation in Fort Dodge has the distinction of being nationally accredited.

About the organization

The Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way is governed by a 17-member board of directors. Lisa Wilson chairs the board.

There are two full-time and three part-time staff members. Randy Kuhlman is the chief executive officer. Joe Kuhlman is the operations manager. Amy Bruno is program coordinator. Chris Hayek is the finance coordinator. Megan Patrick is the receptionist.

Kuhlman is enthused about the work the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way undertakes and said being at its management helm is a role he enjoys and finds fulfilling both personally and professionally.

“We continue to see some of the challenges for some of the kids from these low-income families,” he said. “We are constantly fighting that battle to have a real impact and help these kids succeed and thrive. … There is a wide range of things that we are involved in. I enjoy the diversity of projects ranging from helping the poor all the way up to important community betterment projects on the Community Foundation side to advance our community.”

Kuhlman estimated that between young folks and their families the organization has a direct impact on “well over 3,000” Fort Dodgers.


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