United Way launches 2010 campaign

Left or right? Regular unleaded or super? Coke or Pepsi?

People make simple choices every day. Should the decision to help someone in need be a difficult one?

Not according to the United Way of Greater Waterbury, which launched its 2010 fundraising campaign with a three-minute video depicting the choice as buttons on a computer screen: “Help” and “Ignore.”

The leaders of this year’s campaign hope people don’t select “Ignore.”

“I think the reasons people don’t give are they haven’t been asked or they haven’t been asked properly,” said Peter K. Baker, president and CEO of Crystal Rock, one of the co-chairmen of the campaign, adding the video shows viewers, “I do have a choice to help people or not help. I can’t really ignore them anymore.”

The video, produced by the Prospect-based agency Worx Branding, was shown as part of the 2010-11 Campaign Kickoff, a buffet breakfast event at the Villa Rosa in Waterbury.

The goal for this year’s campaign is $3.5 million — slightly more than the amount raised last year, but several hundred thousand dollars less than last year’s goal.

“It is harder to go to the same well all the time,” Baker said. “This campaign and our efforts are going to try to identify people who haven’t been involved in the past, as well as the people who have been participating.”

That’s important this year, United Way President Kristen Bulkovitch said, because harsh economic times have led to an increased need for social services in the suburban towns.

“Right now, with the state of the economy and people losing their jobs, it’s very commonplace that people are asking for assistance in the surrounding towns,” said Joe Gugliotti, managing member of Worx Branding and co-chairman of the campaign. “I think (helping) is certainly an easy choice to make when you’re aware that there’s a problem.”

He said the video, based on actual calls for assistance the United Way has received on its 211 aid line, also dispels the misconception that the charity applies most of its money and effort on social services in urban Waterbury.

The United Way has created a new fundraising effort in the suburbs, calling on residents to host parties and events geared toward raising money for the cause or spreading the word.

Janet Collins, director of major gifts for the United Way, said people are holding breakfasts, cocktail parties, luncheons and other events, at their own expense, to draw more donors and volunteers in the campaign effort. Representatives are still needed in Prospect, Thomaston, Bethlehem, and Watertown, a spokesman said.

Before playing the video for the crowd, Nancy Becker, chairwoman of the United Way Board of Directors, called its message “powerful and just right for our times.”

She called on the several hundred attendees, including political dignitaries, business leaders and representatives from local nonprofits, to “look up from our everyday distractions” to notice people in need.

“It’s time to really choose,” she said. “Can we go on ignoring our neighbors who need a hand up — many who have never had to reach out for help before — or do we make a stand and choose to help?”