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It was an evening of celebration and recognition on March 24 as United Way of 1,000 Lakes hosted the annual Campaign Celebration and Best of Awards at the Timberlake Lodge in Grand Rapids. More than 250 investors, grantees, and partners attended the celebration, which included the presentation of awards recognizing the contributions of Itasca area workplaces during the 2015-16 campaign.

While celebrating record-breaking support of its annual community campaign, which raised a grand total of over $294,000, the event raised an additional $5,000 through a Plaid Challenge presented by Minnesota Power. The company pledged $25 for every guest donning plaid that evening.

“Thank you for your commitment to helping people in our community,” said Kim Brink Smith, United Way executive director. “Your participation tonight is a demonstration of the value and importance of the frontline organizations supported by the campaign, and their staff and volunteers, who work every day to help people live their best possible lives.”

Awards were presented to individuals who have demonstrated dedication and leadership in their workplace and community. The evening’s keynote presenter, Al Hodnik, ALLETE Chairman, President and CEO, earned the top CEO honor with the Best Company Leadership Award. Chelsi Drobnick of Itasca Family YMCA was awarded Ambassador of the Year for her contributions to the Change the Story campaign, and Amber Kallaus received Coordinator of the Year for her outstanding leadership of the Itasca County workplace campaign.

United Way of 1000 Lakes was proud to present four companies with Best of Awards. Winners included:

Best Year Round Partnership – Paul Bunyan Communications has been a strong supporter of the United Way since they expanded to the Grand Rapids area in 2004. Conducting an annual campaign with online auction and casual Fridays are just a few ways they engage their employees. The cooperative also provides support through sponsorships, corporate gifts and advertising on Paul Bunyan Television.

Best Campaign Innovation – Bigfork Valley is one of United Way’s top company campaigns in greater Itasca and the Adult Day Stay program is a grant recipient. Strategies around communications, interactive engagement, digital media, and events, are a few examples of the innovation and creativity used by campaign leaders to increase employee participation in this year’s United Way campaign.

Best Community Engagement – Greenway High School is innovating and championing new ways to engage young people in community, where they build relationships and grow through teamwork, leadership and service activities. Volunteering at the United Way Day of Action, assembling to hear Chelsi’s story, hosting a school-wide United Way Plaid Day, participating in the “No More” campaign to help raise awareness about domestic abuse and sexual violence are just a few of their victories.

Best Rising Star – ASV is establishing themselves as a strong new partner of United Way. As a newcomer, they demonstrated outstanding achievement in employee education, engagement and involvement with United Way. Through several employee informational sessions and a Root Beer Float Social, the company’s first employee campaign raised nearly $9,500, earning them top employee and corporate giving recognition.

In addition to company awards, volunteers from four organizations were named Volunteer of the Year for their outstanding service and dedication to bettering the Itasca community. Recipients included Dan Fiala – Itasca Youth for Christ, Gary Wildgrube – ElderCircle, Grace Derfler – Bridges Kinship Mentoring, Carol Kenshcaft – Grace House, and Trent Klatt – Advocates for Family Peace. The Greenway High School Hockey Team Captains, Kole Kalisch and Sam LaDoux, were also recognized for their leadership and participation in the NO MORE campaign organized by Advocates for Family Peace.

Also during Thursday’s event, the United Way board elected members to new terms and a slate of volunteers to serve on its executive committee.

Serving new terms on the board are: Christina Monson, Lake Times Magazine; Patrick Goggin, ISD 318; and Tony Clafton, City of Grand Rapids.

For more information about United Way and full listing of awards, visit

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