By TRAVIS MORSE
MT. VERNON — — United Way of South Central Illinois held its annual victory celebration Saturday evening, drawing a crowd of more than 200 people to the Mt. Vernon Holiday Inn.
The event was designed to be a fun and festive way to celebrate the end of the United Way's 2013 fundraising campaign, while also honoring this year's donors.
Lynn Hutchison, community resource director for the United Way, said the celebration used to be a formal affair, but in recent years organizers have tried to make the gathering more enjoyable.
“We try to be playful with it,” Hutchison said. “We thought, what could be more fun than trying to give people a break from the weather.”
United Way officials have not yet announced the results of the 2013 campaign. However, Hutchison said the campaign is “on target.”
“Our goal was just to make an impact on the community and be able to support the agencies that do that work,” Hutchison said.
The theme of Saturday's celebration was “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” a reference to the music of Jimmy Buffet.
Most of those in attendance wore tropical clothing and live music was provided by the Jumbo Shrimp Band. For dinner that evening, there was a gourmet cheeseburger bar.
To kick things off, members of the United Way “Dream Team” led party-goers in a conga line to the cheeseburger bar. The Dream Team is made up of the 2013 Campaign Chairmen — Mike Beard, Norma Fairchild, Kelly Carrico and Brett Hall.
“We work so very hard to try to raise money for the United Way because we help so many great organizations,” Beard said. “So this is a good time to come together with those organizations.”
But there was a serious side to the evening as well. Among other highlights of Saturday's celebration, Ameren Illinois made a $10,000 donation to the United Way's campaign.
Mike Hockett, a journeyman lineman for Ameren, said United Way is a great organization that deserves support.
“Everything that they do is community based so I think it's really good that what they do stays in the community,” Hockett said.
Also at the gathering, a Champion of Hope Award was given to Larry Smith, a board member of Habitat for Humanity. Smith led the construction crew that completed the Lifeboat Alliance Shelter.
The award, Hutchison said, honors individuals who volunteer their time to help make the community a better place.
“It's just someone in the community that exemplifies what it means to live united,” Hutchison said.
In addition Saturday, Beard made a special presentation about the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which provides books to children in need. He also presided over an auction that night to raise money for the Imagination Library.
“I always enjoy talking about things that the United Way does,” Beard said. “Until you're involved with it, you just can't understand the magnitude and how far outreaching this organization is and how much good it does for the community. … Every single dollar matters.”
Saturday's celebration also featured a silent auction, a live auction, a 50/50 drawing and a special “diamond raffle” where the prize was a pair of diamond earrings.
Prizes for the live auction included a hot air balloon ride, a YMCA family membership, and a dinner for six prepared by a Le Cordon Bleu trained chef and his assistant.