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United Way Youth Team gears up to fundraise

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By Kirsten Laskey

When it comes to raising money, the United Way Youth Team is one well-trained fundraising machine. In fact, the group of young people has run a successful campaign every year since team’s inception.

Team members have either met or exceeded their goals, Carla Gray Weisler, marketing director for United Way of Northern New Mexico, told Los Alamos Public School Board Thursday night. For instance, last year the team exceeded its $7,000 goal by $3,000. “We’re very proud of our youth team,” she said.

For this year’s youth campaign, which will begin Sept. 20 and go through Oct. 31, the team members are warming up to score another successful fundraising endeavor.  The goal for this year is to raise $8,000.

Their first fundraising effort will be Dinner over Diamond. The dinner, which is held on the overpasses along Diamond Drive, will be from 4-7 p.m. Sept. 20. This dinner fundraiser with its unique setting was resurrected last year with great success. The Italian themed dinner raised $3,000.

This year, diners will be taken to the tropics with a Hawaiian themed meal.

The young campaigners will also host the traditional Hamburger Night at the Hill Diner. Several committee members commented during the school board meeting they have seen the line of people go out the door at the restaurant during this event.

A new feature to the campaign is Mud and Movies. The team is planning to show a movie in a local park and serve up some “mud and worms,” a dessert which consists of chocolate pudding, Oreo crumbs and gummy worms.

In the past, the team has hosted a coin drive but decided it is more favorable to plan an activity rather than simply ask for money.

It is up to the team members to decide how they are going to proceed to raise money for United Way. “It’s up to them to come up with their ideas,” Morrie Pongratz, chairman of the youth campaign, said Thursday night.

The students who are running the show this year are senior Alex Baker, senior Josh Dolin, senior Kelsey Neal, senior Dia Obermeyer, senior Kendra Smale, senior Beth Wendelberger, junior Madison Ahlers, junior Keanna Cohen, junior Meghan Montoya, junior Brandon Owens, sophomore Ben Schilling, sophomore Gwynn Cunningham, freshman Amy Neal and eighth-grader Justin Dunn.

Marie Marroquin, finance and campaign director, said United Way looks to young people to help with its financial campaign because “We wanted to get youth more involved in the community because they are the future leaders.”

Cohen added, “It’s a really good opportunity for us to met people around the community.”

Plus, Owens said, “It’s a good reason to get out and have some fun.”

Pongratz, who knows a number of the team members, said he invited the students to be a part of the campaign effort. He explained many students are athletes and as a public announcer at games, he would see them on the field.  

“You can learn a lot about a person’s character on the playing field,” Pongratz said.

The teens not only collect a lot of money for United Way but the community benefits from their work.

Marroquin said, “It’s a good cause, young people want to help positively ... It’s a (chance) for them to do something positive and be recognized.”

John Hoffmann and Denise Lane started the youth team during the 2005-2006 school year.  It is part of the United Way of Northern New Mexico’s annual fundraising campaign, which will begin Sept. 23.

“It’s a great cause,” Dolin said. “I’m very happy to be a part of it.”