Leominster, Mass. – United Way of North Central Massachusetts recognized donors and volunteers during an evening of laughter and festivities at its annual thank-you celebration, held Wednesday at the DoubleTree by Hilton, Leominster.

Wally Dwyer, president and CEO of North Middlesex Savings Bank, and volunteer campaign chairman for United Way of North Central Massachusetts, thanked the nonprofit organization’s volunteers and donors for contributing to this year’s fundraising efforts.

“As a result of our efforts this year, we will create over 100,000 opportunities for a better life for the 22 communities we serve from Athol to Littleton,” Dwyer said.

The annual community campaign, which includes corporate gifts, employee giving and individual donations, funds health and human service programs focused on education, health and income.

The evening celebrated United Way’s initiatives, United Way Youth Venture, Dolly Parton Imagination Library, Heroes Against Hunger and United Way Community Impact Fund, which supports over 40 health and human service programs in the region.

United Way Youth Venture, which is managed by Mount Wachusett Community College, a school-based program that empowers young people to make positive change in their community, reaches over 4,000 students in 14 schools across seven districts, including Mount Wachusett Community College—which also manages the program for United Way.

Dolly Parton Imagination Library, designed to improve school readiness, provides a free book every month to children, from birth through four years old, who live in Fitchburg, Leominster, Gardner, Templeton and Winchendon.

Heroes Against Hunger, is a program in which volunteers package meals for local families in need. Since the program was launched, nearly 200,000 meals have been donated to 12 food pantries.

United Way Community Impact Fund supports health and human services programs, with a specific focus on youth development and emergency food and utility assistance.

The evening also included recognition of local companies for conducting outstanding workplace employee-giving campaigns. United Way presented its Extraordinary Effort Chairman’s Award in four regions—for the Athol region to Athol Credit Union; Gardner region to Heywood Hospital; Twin Cities region to Community Healthlink; and in the Nashoba region, North Middlesex Savings Bank.

United Way Youth Venture awarded $1,000 scholarships to three students for outstanding participation in the program:

Kyrah Altman, who attends Leominster High School and CTEi, is the executive director of the United Way Youth Venture Team, LEAD (Let’s Empower, Advocate and Do), which was begun as a means to raise awareness about mental health and gun-related violence in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy. LEAD has since grown to take on many issues facing the community by hosting a multitude of events and initiatives including an annual Sandy Hook Candlelight Vigil, spa days for homeless families living in local hotels, and donating Christmas gifts to families struggling with addiction at Orchard Street House. Altman and her LEAD teammates are making progress in implementing a brand new student-created mental health curriculum to be used in the high school next year. In the fall, Altman will be attending George Washington University in Washington, DC with a focus on public health.

Plamedi Makelela, a senior at Leominster High School and CTEi, is one of the founding members of United Way Youth Venture Team, STRIDE (Students Trying to Rise In Defense of Equality), which is committed to gathering support for the LGBTQ community throughout their school and Leominster with a STRIDE Pride Night hosted at City Hall last spring. The Venture Team fundraises to support the Waltham House, which provides safe housing and counseling for LGBTQ youth who have met mental and physical abuse for their sexual orientation. Makelela plans to attend Northeastern University in Boston in the fall.

Deryn Susman, who attends Sizer School, a North Central Charter Essential School in Fitchburg, started the United Way Youth Venture Team, Sizer Cubbies, after she learned of a mother and children who were forced to flee from their home, leaving all of their prized possessions behind. Susman and her Venture Team were inspired to help traumatized families like these, providing them with free teddy bears, and holding an annual fundraiser to bring awareness and support to the important cause. Susman plans to double major in special education and theater, but has not selected a school at this time.

Following the program, comedian Jim Colliton entertained the audience.

Anyone who is interested in donating to the United Way may make a contribution online at www.uwncm.org or by calling 978-345-1577.

The United Way of North Central Massachusetts serves the communities of Ashburnham, Ashby, Ayer, Baldwinville, Barre, Devens, Fitchburg, Gardner, Groton, Harvard, Hubbardston, Leominster, Littleton, Lunenburg, Pepperell, Shirley, Templeton, Townsend, Westminster and Winchendon.

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