PITTSBURG — The United Way of Southwest Missouri & Southeast Kansas welcomed local agency leaders from all over the area on Wednesday to it’s annual kick off lunch. The United Way also debuted it’s yearly theme, “We are the game changers. We are the hand raisers.”

The event was at Kansas Crossing Casino, which donated the food and the use of its venue.

Kansas Crossing Casino General Manager Doug Fisher said the casino was happy to have the United Way back this year.

“We’re very excited to host the second luncheon for the United Way,” Fisher said.

The theme has special significance for Executive Director Duane Dreiling.

“We are the hand raisers, is very important,” Dreiling said. “With that, we are saying we accept responsibility to make sure the money entrusted to us is invested wisely.”

Director of Resource Development for SEK, Julie Reams, agreed with Dreiling that the trust of their donors is very important to the organization.

“I think the biggest thing to highlight is how the funds we receive from generous donors are truly making an impact in the Southeast Kansas area and funding those programs address the three key targets which contribute to poverty — lack of access to education, health and financial stability,” Reams said.

Several thousand people in southeast Kansas benefited from United Way’s helping hand, Reams said. The United Way helps fund programs through local agencies within its three pillars of focus which are education, health and financial stability.

“In 2017, 9,084 people in southeast Kansas were touched by a United Way funded program,” Reams said. “Last year alone 5,178 people in Pittsburg benefited from a United Way funded program, while Frontenac had 775, Mulberry with 560 and Girard 456.”

District Director for Senator Jerry Moran, Pam Henderson, said she considers it important to be involved in organizations like United Way as they bridge the gap between organizations.

“I think it is important to be able to bring organizations to the same table to be better interconnected,” Henderson said. “When we are all on the same page we can actively work together to help people in need.”