It’s the stories that really drive the meaning of the campaign home.

Columbia College faculty and staff members know that, when they donate to the Heart of Missouri United Way, they are helping out the community in which they live. When they hear how one of their own has been touched by one of the 33 United Way-affiliated community organizations, the impact becomes even more tangible.

At the Walking Taco Extravaganza in Dorsey Gym on Nov. 2 — the centerpiece of Columbia College’s annual United Way fundraising drive — associate director of Alumni Relations Carolyn Preul related how she and her husband adopted their two children through Lutheran Family and Children’s Services, an agency to which the United Way provides funding.

Things got emotional.

“As I looked around the room, I realized there were not a lot of dry eyes at the event,” said Jennifer Truesdale, the Heart of Missouri United Way’s strategic marketing and communications director and former Columbia College Public Relations coordinator. “It touched a lot of people. That’s the perfect example of a lot of people who are receiving United Way services.”

Through a month’s worth of signing up for payroll deduction, buying Jeans Day tickets and putting in for raffle prizes, Columbia College employees raised $13,283 for the United Way.

Assistant director of campus support for Adult Higher Education Suzanne Hickman, who took over as the college’s United Way Committee chair for Truesdale earlier this year, learned about the effect the organization has on the community by working at the United Way for five weeks as a “loaned executive” last year.

She was encouraged by the generosity her fellow Columbia College employees showed.

“They’re giving when they might need it themselves, but they see the benefit of having an organization if times call for it,” Hickman said. “The college is part of the community. So when you have an organization that’s working to support the community and make the community better, it can do nothing but help the college to be involved in such a cause.”

Faculty and staff had an opportunity to give back to their school as well, through a “We Are CC” employee giving campaign that ran in tandem with the United Way one.

The push, one of a series of initiatives throughout the year to donate to Columbia College, netted $5,942 from 17 employees, including one-time gifts, new payroll deductions and upgrades to existing ones.

“The gifts from employees help us improve our scholarship offerings for deserving students nationwide,” said Beth McWilliams, associate director of annual giving. “Support from employees also allow us to address unique initiatives within and across the college, as well as help us fund experiential learning for students through internship programs and opportunities to study abroad.”

In its third year, the “Walking Taco” event allowed participants to enjoy a unique take on the Tex-Mex food staple while earning perks for their donations, such as “wear jeans to work” stickers and being entered into raffles for prizes ranging from swag bags to priority parking spots. The campaign also included a stop at the school’s Federal Hall location in downtown Columbia.

Truesdale, who worked at Columbia College for more than three years, was happy to see the school’s United Way committee is in good hands with Hickman.

“I really look forward to knowing that this relationship is going to continue. I’m so grateful to Suzanne Hickman and everybody on the committee who picked up the event where it left off and just kept forging ahead with it,” Truesdale said. “She was the perfect person to take over.”

The United Way campaign, along with campus organizations with similar goals such as the Relay for Life team, show the spirit of philanthropy that permeates throughout Columbia College.

“It literally takes pennies at a time, a couple dollars here or there where you feel inclined. It keeps this spirit year-round,” Preul said. “It’s really nice that we’re all in a group where we all have that same mentality, that giving is important.”