Mecosta-Osceola United Way kicks off 2012 campaign with $580,000 goalBIG RAPIDS — With tears in her eyes, Kayla Lorenz told her story of living as a homeless teenager to a crowd of United Way supporters. Overwhelmed by the support she received from the Youth Attention Center during that period of her life, Lorenz had to have a friend help her finish her keynote speech during the Mecosta-Osceola United Way’s 2012 campaign kickoff breakfast. Lorenz started taking care of herself and living with the family of her then-boyfriend about two years ago, when her parents told her they could no longer afford to drive her to school every day. A few months later, her father relocated to the Upper Peninsula and Lorenz decided not to go with him. That’s when she found out about the Youth Attention Center, which helps youths separated from their families because of abuse, poverty or other factors. Its goal is to re-unite families or find the children a stable home to live in. “I’ve been with the Youth Attention Center since 2011. They’ve helped me with my car, my clothes and provided emotional support, which I needed a lot of,” Lorenz said. “Today, I’m just a high school senior trying to get through school. It’s kind of hard because I do everything on my own. “I go to work on Friday, rather than the football games. I do my best at school, because school is the only thing I’ve got going for me. My parents are not going to pay my way through college. I’ll have to go through college on my own.” Organizations like the Youth Attention Center benefit from the money raised through the United Way’s annual campaign. This year, the local chapter hopes to raise $580,000. Last year, the campaign raised $575,000 for local organizations. The three-month-long fundraiser kicked off on Friday at the Holiday Inn Hotel and Conference Center in Big Rapids, where representatives from area businesses and organizations picked up their campaign materials. Betty Seelye, executive director of the local organization, encouraged those in attendance to seek donations in honor of those who need support the most. The campaign already has raised about $30,000. “When you’re asking for donations, you’re not asking for yourself. You’re asking for people like Kayla,” Seelye said. “In my mind, there is no more important work that you can do than helping people.” Several awards were presented to key United Way supporting organizations and individuals. Seelye presented “campaign leadership awards” to the employees of Yoplait and of Ferris State University; “overachievers award” to the employees of Chemical Bank; “pacesetter award” to the Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District; “live united award” to Dan Burcham, vice president for student affairs at Ferris; and “campaign champion awards” to Jim Becker, of Yoplait and United Way board president, Robin Furneisen, coordinator for Mecosta-Osceola Senior Meals, and Jeremy Mishler, Ferris Alumni Relations director. Becker, who has served on the United Way board for 17 years, said it is important to give back to the community in which he was born and raised. “Everybody hits bumps in the road and they need to get through that. Things happen and there are resources to get those families through them,” Becker said. “Since joining the board, I’ve been overwhelmed with all the good that these agencies do. I’ve come to know the agency directors and volunteers, and to hear the stories they tell really hits you in the heart. We have to respond and try to support them.” For more information about the 2012 United Way campaign or to donate, contact Betty Seelye at (231) 592-4144.