OWATONNA — For the United Way of Steele County, Thursday evening was more than a celebration of its 2014 victories.

It was also a farewell to the organization’s longtime executive director, Evelina Giobbe, who retired at the end of the year after 11 years, and a welcome to its new leadership.

“Normally, Evelina would be up here eloquently thanking us all, but this year, we thank her for her service to the United Way of Steele County,” said Kim Schaufenbuel, the United Way’s new executive director. “After 11 years dedicated to developing the process and policies that have made the United Way of Steele County successful and creating pathways for the elimination of barriers to good health, good education and economic stability, Evelina has retired.”

But Schaufenbuel said Giobbe isn’t spending her retirement “curled up on a beach chair reading a book somewhere.”

“You should know by now she doesn’t do anything by the book,” she said. “Evelina’s idea of retirement is founding EMG Consulting, a business devoted to grant writing, evaluation and non-profit capacity building, and she’s advising and training me this year as I get started in my position. She’s my training wheels, and I’m so thankful for her.”

And when it was time for Giobbe to stand behind the podium and speak, she expressed her gratitude to those who’ve made her tenure with the United Way “one of the most meaningful experiences” in her life.

“You gave me the opportunity to become a real member of a small, rural community, what I always envisioned America to be, what my father and grandmother imagined America could be when they came from Italy here, so I am so grateful to you for allowing me to live the American dream with you,” Giobbe said. “It has been a ride. I gave you what I got. I hope I made a difference. I want to keep working with you.”

As Giobbe stepped away from the microphone and walked back to her seat between tables at the Owatonna Country Club, members of the United Way stood and applauded.

And the applause echoed throughout the evening as the United Way of Steele County celebrated its accomplishments in the community.

Dan McIntosh, United Way Board president and Steele County attorney, listed some of those to start, including the creation of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, a program that mails an age-appropriate book every month to Steele County children 5 years old and younger as well as the partnership with Owatonna Shoe for the Boots to Work program that provides boots to Steele County adults who need them to work.

McIntosh said more than 800 children are enrolled in the library program, and more than 150 people have received boots to work.

He also mentioned a program coming this year called a mobile farmers’ market.

“The idea is we can bring healthy, low-cost produce on a weekly basis,” McIntosh said. “It will have the ability to accept card payments such as EBT or WIC or if you get some type of incentive from your insurance. Those are some of the other victories we have for tonight.”

Then, McIntosh turned to the United Way’s traditional work.

“We want to raise money and give it away,” he said. “That’s really what we’re here to do.”

To provide funding to organizations within Steele County each year, the United Way holds its annual campaign that kicked off with its Community Campaign Team — Mayo Clinic Health System in Owatonna, Owatonna Public Schools and Steele County Public Health — last summer with the goal of raising $665,000.

And this year, the Steele County community gave $667,500.

“When we were here five months ago...I said to you...I’m in, I’m all in, and I invite you to do the same. You heard that challenge, you rose to that challenge, you exceeded our campaign goal,” said Dr. Brian Bunkers, president and CEO of Mayo Clinic Health System in Owatonna and Faribault. “I want to say thanks to all of you who led those campaigns at your workplace, who contributed your own dollars, who believed in the mission for the United Way. Together we can be successful, together we can lead this community to a healthier place.”

Those dollars will go toward supporting partnerships as well as aiding programs of more than 20 non-profits through grants.

And one of the non-profits received the Agency Live United Award.

“Each year we award one of our member agencies with a Live United Award, which are made to Steele County non-profit organizations that give, advocate and volunteer in our community,” Schaufenbuel said.

This year, the Crisis Resource Center of Steele County, which has been a United Way agency for 23 years, received the recognition.

“The Crisis Resource Center exemplifies these things and then some,” Schaufenbuel said. “The mission of the Crisis Resource Center is to provide support and confidential services to individuals affected by domestic abuse and sexual violence, they’re also committed to reducing the instances of these things by providing education to all members of the community they serve.”

And although Sara Colby, executive director of the Crisis Resource Center, was unable to attend the event, Christy Hormann, vice president of the center’s board, accepted the award on behalf of the organization.

“On Sara’s behalf she would sincerely like to thank the United Way, all of you here tonight, all of the staff and board members of the Crisis Resource Center and all the other area agencies and nonprofits in Steele County, who work collaboratively with the Crisis Resource Center, and most importantly all of the victims of abuse who have had enough strength and courage to come forward and seek help — the men, women and children who made the decision to break the cycle of abuse,” Hormann said.

Hormann said within the last 10 years, the Crisis Resource Center has helped 12,082 victims of abuse and provided 79,099 services to those individuals. The volunteers log more than 6,000 hours a year answering 1,200 crisis calls.

“We still have a long way to go because we believe no one deserves to be the victim of abuse,” she said.

The event also included recognition of the organization’s outgoing president Annette Frank as well as keynote speeches from Wilson Elementary School’s principal Julie Sullivan and social worker Sue Schroeder about what United Way sponsored and funded agencies do for children in Steele County.

Reach reporter Ashley Stewart at 444-2378 or follow her on Twitter.com @OPPashley

Owatonna People's Press reporter covering Steele County, Blooming Prairie and Medford government as well as health, transportation and community happenings. University of St. Thomas graduate.

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