In a world filled with tragedy and turmoil, too often people give up and decide they cannot make a difference. It is a testament to the integrity and generosity of the people of Grant County that they buck that trend. Every year, they spread joy to others and eagerly give of themselves by contributing to the Grant County Combined Appeal.
“I have said it again and again, we have such a generous and caring community,” said Kerry Fish, chairperson of Combined Appeal. Fish’s sentiment might be considered an understatement as Milbank and the surrounding communities make the Grant County Combined Appeal one of the most unique yet successful funding sources in the state. “Most communities our size do not generate the donations we do,” said Fish. “Similar sized areas raise $15,000 to $20,000 a year.” Grant County raised $176,823, which is the second largest amount since its inception in 1961. All the funds raised stay right in Grant County which also makes this campaign so successful. “We stretch beyond Milbank, though,” noted Fish. “We cover the whole county and touch the young, the old, people with disabilities, and more.”
Fish, along with Craig Wellnitz and Deb Hermans, make up the Combined Appeal board and although the campaign starts in May and ends December 31, the group is busy the entire year planning and preparing.
Fish has been part of the group for the past eight years. She began as a member of the Milbank Community Foundation board before moving into the role as chairperson for Combined Appeal. “When I first started out with this group I was just along for the ride,” Kerry said. “But since then I have seen how phenomenal this community and surrounding area are and I just love to see how we take care of each other.” Fish is employed full-time at Valley Queen Cheese, a member of the Pacesetters. Pacesetters are local businesses or groups who internally raise funds to donate to the Combined Appeal. “Valley Queen encourages and allows me the flexibility to put in the hours it takes to make our campaign successful,” she said. “They allow me time to talk with the Pacesetter groups, attend meetings, conduct agency interviews, and visit with new businesses and agencies about becoming part of the campaign.”
Wellnitz is the financial director for the Milbank Community Foundation and commits about 60% of his time to Combined Appeal. He has been the director since June of 2002. “Craig does all the behind-the-scenes tasks which seem endless,” noted Fish.
Hermans is the newest member of the board and worked many years at State Auto before her retirement. All three members have important tasks, but the trio feels it is the work of the Pacesetter groups that really make the Combined Appeal campaign so successful. “Each group does their own thing from payroll deductions to raffles,” explained Wellnitz, “and together the Pacesetter Groups generate 66% of the funds raised.”
Students also have been instrumental in raising money for Combined Appeal. Groups such as student councils, Girl and Boy Scouts and the local Special Olympics students have raised funds for the cause. “I had one mother come into my office with a donation from her children,” explained Wellnitz. “She gave the children chores to do each week and paid them a weekly allowance. The children saved their money and donated it to Combined Appeal.” It is those stories that keep Fish and Wellnitz, along with the Pacesetter groups, working hard all year.
Where does the money go? If you look around, it won’t take long to see the effects- from baseball uniforms to bus rides.
The Lions Swim Team uses the money to cover meet fees, pool rent, and to update equipment such as starting blocks, flags and lane ropes. Jodi Street, MALST board member, said, “Combined Appeal is vitally important for the team to be able to offer a fun, healthy, competitive youth activity at an affordable rate.” The team also does their best to give back to Combined Appeal by supporting events and businesses that participate in the campaign. “We cannot thank Combined Appeal enough for all the support they have given the swim team throughout the years,” she commented.
The Milbank OST Program uses the money for the OST Reading program, additional staffing, and arts and crafts supplies. Mary Kinder, OST director, said, “The reading program has become one of the most important components of OST. The kids continue reading and practicing math facts during the summer months as well as after school.”
The Milbank Community Transit receives money to augment the community bus services. The organization has two busses and two vans available of which two are handicap accessible. The money received from Combined Appeal goes into the general fund. “Without the money from Combined Appeal, we would be short on funds every year,” explained Leone Poel, transit coordinator.
The Milbank Ball Diamond Association uses the money to hire high quality individuals to mentor and teach the youth, pay its umpires, and supply uniforms to the players. Darin Mertens, association board member said, “Without Combined Appeal’s financial support, nearly 300 kids in our programs would pay an additional $32 per child.” That fee hike would likely prevent many kids from playing. The money also helps keep the equipment up to standards. “We do this for the safety and protection of our youth. Without Combined Appeal, this would be nearly impossible.”
Additional agencies receiving funds this year include Senior Companions of South Dakota, Grant County Child Protection Team, Grant County Heart/Diabetes Fund, NEGL Red Cross, Unity Square Recreation Programs, Inter-Lakes Community Action (ICAP), Milbank Boy Scout Troop 45, Grant County ARC, Milbank Girl Scouts, The Salvation Army, Imagination Library, Unity Square Financial Scholarship Program, Milbank Area Community Tennis Association (MACTA), Milbank Area Youth Assistance Project (MAYA) and ICAP 60’s Plus Dining Program.
The Pacesetter groups contributing to the Grant County Appeal for 2015-2016 include: Big Stone Therapies, Dakota Granite, First Bank and Trust, Gesswein Motors, Milbank Community Foundation, Milbank Medical Center and Hospital, Milbank School District, Montage, Poet, Otter Tail Power Company, State Auto, United Hardware, Valley Queen Cheese, and Windwater Suites.
If your business or organization is interested in being a Pacesetter contact one of the Combined Appeal board members.