Making a difference
Dan and Mary Beth Knoeck share why they have accepted the task of being United Way drive chairs this year and why they hope to address homelessness as a central issue
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — Dan and Mary Beth Knoeck were surprised when they were asked to be drive chairs of the annual Marshfield Area United Way fundraising campaign.
“We never saw it coming to be honest with you,” said Dan Knoeck. “They asked Mary Beth first. … I don’t know if they were afraid I was going to say no,” he joked.
Initially the task felt imposing, but at the same time the Knoecks were honored to be asked. Dan is the director of public works for the city of Marshfield, and Mary Beth is the adult/BAAS student enrollment coordinator and PEC advisor at UW-Marshfield/Wood County.
Although United Way raises money year-round, the official kickoff to this year’s fundraising campaign is Wednesday, Sept. 16. The campaign concludes toward the end of December. The fundraising goal this year is $835,000.
The Knoecks have lived in Marshfield for the past 17 years and have been involved with and contributed to United Way throughout their time here. Marshfield Area United Way asks area workplaces to hold their own fundraising drives for the organization, and Dan has been the coordinator of past campaigns for the city of Marshfield.
Mary Beth has been involved with Marshfield Area United Way’s Nutrition On Weekends (NOW) program, which helps area families who struggle to afford enough food for their children on the weekends when school lunches are not available. Dan, other department heads, and members of the Marshfield city government also pack lunches for the NOW program monthly.
According to the most recent Vital Signs report, which is produced in collaboration between the city, Marshfield Area Community Foundation, and Marshfield Area United Way, in 2014 over 18,000 people in Wood County were provided services by Wisconsin’s Food Share Program. Just over 6,700 were children. That report also showed that nearly 33 percent of Marshfield public school students participate in the free and reduced lunch program. The NOW program serves about 300 students in four area school districts.
One of the reasons the Knoecks have been involved with Marshfield Area United Way is that the money raised goes to local causes and local people. They also appreciate that each program United Way gives to must present the merits of its cause to a group of volunteers that scrutinizes where every dollar goes.
“We see all the money is being used so wisely,” Mary Beth said.
Dan and Mary Beth also feel that they have been given much by the Marshfield community. They feel lucky to lead the lives that they do and are compelled to work towards making sure everybody has a greater chance at prosperity.
“We’ve been blessed with living in a great community, good jobs. We’ve been blessed with good health and family, but there are a lot of people that struggle with those things. We feel like there’s a need for us to give back with all the things that we experienced and the blessings that we’ve received over the years,” Dan said.
One of the main focuses of this year’s campaign will be creating awareness surrounding the homeless population in Marshfield. The Vital Signs report showed that though the number has declined in recent years, 63 students were considered to be homeless in the Marshfield School District in the 2013-14 school year.
“You don’t think of Marshfield as having a homeless problem. You know that’s a big city problem,” Dan said. He added that the day he and Mary Beth toured the Frederic Ozanam Transitional Shelter, it was nearly to capacity, in the neighborhood of 50 occupants. Krista Ley, a case manager at the shelter, said that as of Aug. 28 all 14 rooms in the shelter were occupied.
Mary Beth said they were “hugely surprised” to learn about the size and scope of the homelessness problem in Marshfield.
“It was very eye-opening and very sad,” Mary Beth said. She added that with much of the local homeless population made up of young people, she felt the NOW program closely tied in with homelessness.
“If we can … help the families when the kids are younger, hopefully we can break that (cycle) before we start the next generation of falling into the same patterns,” she said. The Knoecks have four children of their own.
Mary Beth said that being drive chairs has allowed them to learn more about the community they have long called home.
“We’re really actually learning about a community that we’ve lived in for a very long time and are seeing things that we were blinded to and we didn’t know,” she said. She added that it is not just a certain group of people that need social services or fall into homelessness. It could be anyone. From a job loss to a medical emergency, regular working families can find themselves in need of help, in a place they never thought they would be.
“That’s how some homelessness can start, by just this once incident causing this huge downfall,” Mary Beth said. She noted that even the smallest contribution can help someone in the Marshfield area.
“Everybody can always make that sacrifice. What is yours?” she said. “Even the littlest bit makes a difference.”
To donate or to get involved with Marshfield Area United Way, visit marshfieldareaunitedway.org or call 715-384-9992.