Check & Connect named UWNEMN Agency of the Year

United Way of Northeastern Minnesota (UWNEMN) presented Check & Connect with its Agency of the Year award at the organization’s Annual Campaign Celebration March 31st.

The event marked the end of UWNEMN’s fiscal year, and donors, volunteers, and partner agencies gathered to celebrate the results of the 2022 campaign which raised more than $2,000,000. UWNEMN fundraises throughout the year primarily via workplace campaigns and events to support nonprofits and its own direct service programs throughout the Iron Range, Koochiching County, and Lake of the Woods County.

Check & Connect launched in August 2021 as a St. Louis County initiative to provide in-school mentors for students showing warning signs of school disengagement, and providing support for students’ entire families.

There is at least one Check & Connect mentor in every school in St. Louis County; 24 Check & Connect mentors have served 1,538 students through the program.

“Our United Way works closely with our area schools, and we have heard rave reviews about this program from school staff,” said UWNEMN Executive Director Erin Shay.

Awards were also presented to top 2023 volunteers and donors:

Lifesaver Awards were given to Connie Kotonias for her help with UWNEMN’s Buddy Backpacks, Meet Up and Chow Down, and Comforts of Home programs as well as The Wall That Heals committee, local veterans who were heavily involved in bringing the traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial replica to Chisholm last summer.

Spirit Awards were given to International Falls Rotary’s Love of Reading Early (L.O.R.E.) program which raised $8,000 for UWNEMN’s Imagination Library program in Koochiching County and has been instrumental in increasing enrollment in that program in International Falls and to the Veterans Community Thrift Store which is a major supporter of UWNEMN’s United for Veterans program.

Campaign Awards were given to Cleveland-Cliffs Minorca Mine which recently returned to in-person campaign meetings, raising $40,000; Glacier Iron Ore Properties which offers a unique 3:1 match and whose five local employees all give, this year raising more than $7,000; and Iracore which has increased its campaign each year, volunteers with Buddy Backpacks and Meet Up and Chow Down, and participates in UWNEMN’s billboard campaign.

U. S. Steel was presented with UWNEMN’s Leadership Award in recognition of more than 50 years of workplace campaigns, corporate sponsorship, and employee volunteerism. Senior Vice President, Raw Materials and Sustainable Resources, John Gordon received the award with local leadership and was the evening’s keynote speaker.

“United Way is really the perfect partner for U. S. Steel,” Gordon said. “It’s a great organization because it channels communities’ generosity into meaningful action.”

Incoming and retiring board members were also recognized. Chrissy Bartovich (U. S. Steel Minnesota Ore Operations), Alicia Dick (ISD 2142), Jennie Hipple (U. S. Steel Minntac USW Local 1938), Jaime Johnson (Cleveland-Cliffs Minorca Mine), and Nikki Skifstad (PCA) joined this year’s UWNEMN Board of Directors. Retiring from the board this year are Tom Jamar (retired, Jasper Engineering), Stacy Hart (North Homes Children and Family Services), Cliff Tobey (U. S. Steel Minnesota Ore Operations), and Bruce Kingsley (Cleveland-Cliffs Minorca Mine).

Returning board members include: Dianne Buhrow (Essentia Health), Chad Buus (U. S. Steel Minnesota Ore Operations), Eric Clement (Minnesota Power), Dean DeBeltz (Twin Metals Minnesota), Jennifer Ford (Entrepreneur Fund), Jack Furlong (Ameriprise Financial), LaTisha Gietzen (NewRange Copper Nickel),  Matt Hiti (Cleveland-Cliffs Hibbing Taconite, USW Local 2705), Paul Janssen (Paul J. Janssen CPA), Breanne Katrin (Delta Air Lines), Ashley Kjenaas (NorthRidge Community Credit Union), April Klander (Fairview Range), Marci Knight (Park State Bank), Dan Kotnik (retired, U. S. Steel Keetac, USW Local 2660), Stacy Kuusinen (BlueCross BlueShield of Minnesota), Frank LaMusga (retired, Cleveland-Cliffs Hibbing Taconite, USW Local 2705), Julie Lucas (MiningMinnesota), Jeannie Nobens (Minnesota Twist Drill), Mike Norton (Retired, Cleveland-Cliffs United Taconite), Robb Peterson  (Cleveland-Cliffs United Taconite), Nick Renollet (Lakehead Constructors Inc.), Laura Rosier (Northland Learning Center), Greg Schulzetenberg (Lake Country Power), Samantha Silcox (Edward's Oil & Propane), and Jim Skalski (Iracore).

DeBeltz was named 2023 UWNEMN Board President and said in his tenure he hopes to deepen UWNEMN’s impact in the eastern part of the organization’s service area in communities like Aurora, Biwabik, Bois Forte, Ely, Hoyt Lakes, and Tower. While UWNEMN has accomplished much in recent years, there is still work to be done this year, he noted.

“We’ve muscled through a pandemic, yet financial pressures such as inflation and the high cost of consumer goods will continue to challenge those most in need of our help,” he said.