NEWARK– It might seem unusual for the executive director of United Way of Licking County to end a meeting by walking out the door.
But that’s exactly what Deb Dingus did Thursday morning.
Carrying a backpack full of gear, Dingus started a journey that will continue for the next 50 days. She’ll be walking through Licking County, stopping in every township, raising funds and awareness for United Way.
“I’ve had a lot of feelings and emotions, I’m so grateful to be here,” Dingus said. “I pray that this walk and everything we do along the way will be a blessing for this county.”
Dingus announced her project, known as the Give Walk Do campaign, several months ago as a celebration of her 50th birthday and her fifth year being cancer free, after a battle with breast cancer in 2010.
“I really want to honor God and the gift I’ve been given, so I can make a difference,” she said.
She started her journey at the conclusion of United Way’s annual meeting, held at the DoubleTree by Hilton in downtown Newark.
Walking until May 26, she’ll camp out at night and spend her days hiking and meeting with county residents.
She’s hoping to raise $50,000 for United Way, while also encouraging people in the community to volunteer. There’s multiple issues that Dingus is hoping to shine the light on during her campaign, from drug abuse and homelessness to access to mental health care and public transportation.
“This is a call to action,” she said. “We want to raise awareness and help to build a community of hope.”
Although Thursday’s annual meeting was focused on United Way’s campaign and accomplishments in the past year, Give Walk Do was incorporated into every part of the event.
Several community businesses and organizations were honored for their contributions to United Way, including Mental Health America of Licking County, the Pataskala Banking Company and TrueCore Federal Credit Union.
Retired Licking County EMA Director Jeff Walker received the Ken Johnston Award for volunteering to lead the Red Cross’ local disaster volunteers.
Matt Miller, chairman of the organization’s 2015-16 annual campaign, announced how much had been pledged for United Way so far — $1,574,000.
But their goal is at least $2 million and the campaign continues until June 30. Contributions made during Give Walk Do will help add to that goal.
Miller also took time to pay tribute to David Gallant, who moved many people to tears at last year’s United Way breakfast.
Gallant told the crowd about his struggles with heroin addiction. But with help from United Way supported organizations such as Mental Health America of Licking County, The Main Place and the Licking County Coalition for Housing, he was able to begin recovery and get back on his feet.
He was open about his experience and was an active supporter of other people in recovery.
Last summer, he participated in a video used to help United Way with its campaign and credited the organization for restoring his hope that he would overcome the obstacles he faced.
Gallant died Dec. 11 after being struck by a car while riding his bike on North 21st Street. The staff at United Way decided to create an award in his honor called the Hope Award and presented it Thursday to Gallant’s family, who live in Canada.
Donna Gibson, of Mental Health America, accepted the award on their behalf.
One of Gallant’s close friends, Robert Hicks, spoke about his experiences with the United Way funded program, Bridges Out of Poverty.
Hicks, who struggled with depression and anxiety was able to learn coping skills through the program that helped him get a job and change his life.
“If not for Bridges Out of Poverty, I’d still be a shell of a lost soul, wandering the streets,” he said.
As he described his journey, he encouraged everyone in the room to support Dingus as she completed hers.
“Let’s all lend a hand to help bring hope,” he said.
The Newark High School Marching Band performed as Dingus started her walk, surrounded by her family and community supporters.
Her plans for the day included visiting the Canal Market, Ben Franklin Elementary School, Courage House and Spencer House.
As she walks throughout the county, promoting United Way’s mission, Dingus said she’s looking forward to meeting people along the way, encouraging a culture of empathy and empowering people to make a difference.
“We are all connected,” she said. “That’s what it means to live united.”
Found in The Newark Advocate on April 7, 2016