I came to an early realization when I moved to Estevan in the fall of 2000: Estevan comes together for the United Way Telethon.
I had been in town for only a few weeks when I covered the telethon for the first time that October. But even before the telethon, my first interview after coming to Estevan was with Lynn Trobert, the United Way’s president for the 2000 campaign. (Twenty-one years later, she’s still a fixture on the board).
During and after that telethon, I realized that the broadcast was an important part of life in the community, that it received tremendous support each year, that it brings the community together in a way that nothing else seemingly did, and people looked forward to it.
It also helps a lot of people. When you look at the list of the United Way’s member agencies and community partners, there are a lot of people who benefit from the money raised at the telethon. If you haven’t benefitted, you likely know someone who has.
At one point, I wondered why more communities didn’t try to raise funds that way.
Weyburn’s United Way had a telethon, which started a few years after Estevan. There’s still a telethon in Weyburn, called the Communithon, but it’s no longer a United Way project.
There’s an incredible amount of time and preparation that goes into a telethon, and frankly, it likely wouldn’t work in larger communities. It’s a heck of a way to raise money in a comparatively short amount of time in a small centre, but you need the manpower to pull it off, and that isn’t always available in cities and towns of under 25,000 people.
Twenty-one years later, Estevan’s love for the United Way remains. You see people of all ages coming together to support the event. Children who are only a few years old will provide entertainment. So will senior citizens.
Financial support comes from so many people. And at all times during the 33 hours, you can find people volunteering to make the show a success. The number of volunteers extends well beyond the board members.
This year’s theme was Together Everyone Achieves More, and the telethon lived up to that theme, not just this year, but every year.
The $359,000 that was raised this year will be directed to 13 member agencies and six community partners. They’ll put the money to good use to help people in the Estevan area. It’s not going to postage.
In normal times, those member agencies and community partners rely heavily on the United Way’s support. During a pandemic, the United Way means even more.
Some of those member agencies have been with the United Way since its inception or close to it. And some of those community partners have been funded by the United Way for as long as they’ve been around.
The last couple of telethons have obviously been very different. There’s been a blend of live and virtual entertainment. Last year’s telethon didn’t have people in the hall, this year it did, but there was some stretches where it was pretty quiet, especially Friday morning, which is typically a very hectic time due to the performances by school children.
But still, it was great just to be able to have a telethon the last two years, in some fashion, with people from the Estevan area supporting those in the Estevan area. So many events and important fundraisers have not been able to happen since March 2020.
It’s also worth noting that this year the United Way surpassed $10 million in funds raised since it began. The telethon, of course, has accounted for the vast majority of that sum. There was a United Way in Estevan before that first telethon in 1977, and donations are still made outside the telethon.
It’s a testament to the trust that the community has in the United Way that they are so generous with their support. They know that the money raised here will stay here. In an era of emphasizing local, the approach of the United Way Estevan resonates with many as much as it ever has.
I just can’t imagine Estevan without the United Way, or its telethon.