The presence of Underdog was symbolic.
The cartoon superhero, portrayed by longtime United Way Communications Chairman Mike Downey, led a group of costumed volunteers who helped kick-off the annual fundraising campaign at a luncheon Thursday.
"Be a Hero!" is the theme of this year's United Way of Central Missouri campaign to raise $1.65 million. Proceeds will assist 25 partner agencies and programs serving people in Cole, Miller, Osage and southern Callaway counties.
The people served by those agencies are, in some respects, the underdogs in our community.
They may be developmentally disabled or homebound elderly in need of health care.
They include victims of natural disasters or domestic violence.
They are homeless people in need of shelter or children who yearn for the guidance and friendship of a "big brother" or "big sister."
The United Way campaign also faces challenges consistent with being an underdog.
The campaign goal may be ambitious, but it represents a realistic appraisal of what the partner agencies need to continue their service to the community.
Each year, United Way volunteers scrutinize agency budgets to arrive at no-frills allocations which determine the campaign goal.
But, just as the cartoon Underdog was able to summon super powers and "save the day," so United Way volunteers are encouraging members of our community to help meet the challenge.
"There is a hero inside all of us," United Way President Ann Bax said at the kick off, "someone selfless, caring and compassionate, willing to champion for those suffering and despairing."
She added: "As United Way supporters, you are ordinary heroes doing extraordinary things helping youth reach their full potential, supporting the aging, improving people's health and promoting self-sufficiency."
Pacesetter businesses that hold early campaigns set a heroic example by raising $816,173, or 49 percent of the goal.
A challenge remains, but each gift to the United Way campaign is a heroic gesture of compassion.