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story.lead_photo.caption United Way Campaign co-chair Ryan Freeman, middle, reacts Thursday after revealing the total raised by this year's campaign. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

The United Way — and through it, central Missouri — is on a winning streak.

Again this year, the organization set a record for money pledged for its annual campaign by receiving pledges for $2,187,520.

Organizers said, although that far outstrips this year's $2 million goal, they expect the number to climb as companies continue to fund-raise into December.

As the campaign winds down, people who have worked throughout the year for the campaign get a chance to "take a breath, pause and say a 'thank you' prayer," said Ann Bax, president of United Way of Central Missouri.

The organization is grateful the community understands that to be a great community, its people have to take care of each other, she said.

Each year, the United Way comes up with a theme for 2018, it was "Sports" — to help drive efforts to raise money for nonprofit organizations. Campaign co-chairs Missy Dunn and Ryan Freeman said they attended more than 150 campaign events in support of the efforts.

"Together, we are 'changing the game' for those who have lost their confidence, who have lost hope, who have lost their will to keep playing," Bax said. "We are there for those who need us when they need us most."

Last year, which was another record-setting year for the local United Way, the community raised about $2.1 million.

Programs supported by the United Way assist seniors, adults with disabilities, families divided by addictions, people struggling with mental illness and people struggling to put food on the table, Bax said.

So, exceeding the goal this year touched her heart, Dunn said.

"I cannot tell you how many times I've been heartbroken through this campaign and heard the stories of those in need throughout our community," she said. "Talking about hungry children just makes me physically ill."

But, she is grateful to know the United Way is supporting mobile food pantries and sending buddy packs home with children on weekends.

Campaign co-chairs serve for two years. There is always one who is working his or her first year and one who is completing his or her second. This was Dunn's first.

Freeman said the two-year effort has taught him how strong community relationships are. He added he learned four valuable lessons over the past two years: the need in the community is humbling; the passion for help exists within this community; he is grateful for the help to meet the need; and how people working together can create a lot of good.

The need in the community caught him off guard, he said, which was humbling. "I was amazed at the testimonials in our rallies."

A funeral director at Freeman Mortuary, Freeman said surrounding people with love and giving them guidance is what he does at his business.

"That's exactly what our agencies do every day," Freeman said. "I just had the privilege to share their stories with the community and the community believes in it."

Freeman thanked several hundred people gathered Thursday morning inside Missouri Farm Bureau for the campaign's victory breakfast for their help in reaching the agency's goal. The United Way exceeded its goal by almost 10 percent.

United Way of Central Missouri serves Cole, Camden, Miller, Moniteau, Morgan, Osage and southern Callaway counties. Money raised during the campaign stays in Mid-Missouri and serves 28 partner agencies within those areas.

"I found out (during) the second campaign that when a group of people come together for a common purpose, anything is possible," Freeman said.

The success of the campaign will likely allow the United Way to offer community grants in 2019, Bax said.

"That network we're building works together like family," Bax said. "We're not only helping our partner agencies, but helping others through our community grants."

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