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Drive's goal lowered to $1.3 million

Recognizing that "these are tough times, companies are downsizing and many people are out of work," the United Way of Greater Niagara is lowering its expectations for this year's fundraising.

The United Way, which now serves both the Lockport and Niagara Falls areas, began its 10-week drive Thursday with a goal of $1,310,000, down from last year's goal of $1,478,000. The drive surpassed that goal, raising just over $1.5 million last year in donations and pledges.

The new goal was announced jointly by Carol G. Houwaart-Diez, United Way president, and Niagara County Sheriff James R. Voutour, honorary chairman of the campaign.

"We know the tough times that people are having, and we had to be realistic in setting our goal," Voutour said. "We realize that some of our biggest contributors have downsized and some people have lost their incomes, so we sat down and decided on what we think is a realistic goal.

"We hope to surpass the goal, though, because as fewer people are able to contribute, the need for help increases. It's a vicious circle."

"For as little as $1 a week," Voutour added, "you can help change someone's life."

Houwaart-Diez said, "The important work that our United Way agencies perform is made easier by the generosity of others."

The announcement was made at the Lockport site of Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara, the largest nonprofit agency in the county that provides programs and services for people with developmental disabilities.

Opportunities Unlimited is one of 20 agencies that receive support from the United Way of Greater Niagara. The United Way said that more than 80,000 people in the county benefit from the nearly 75 programs that it supports.

Three campaign co-chairmen were introduced during Thursday's program:

*Greg Chenez, president of Local 1117, Communications Workers of America, and an employee of Verizon. He is a longtime United Way volunteer and current board member who served previously as campaign chairman for the former Eastern Niagara United Way.

*Andy Touma, assistant principal at North Tonawanda Middle School. He has served as a group chairman and division chairman in previous United Way campaigns.

*Peter Robinson, a court officer in the state system. He served on the board of the former Eastern Niagara United Way and last year started the Peanut Butter and Jelly Campaign to help feed local families.

In 2008, when the United Way of Niagara Falls and the Eastern Niagara United Way were separate organizations, their combined fundraising goal was $1.9 million. In 2010, after the two were combined, the goal was reduced but there were no cuts in allocations to member agencies, Houwaart-Diez said. Economies were achieved by eliminating duplication and cutting administrative expenses.

The annual drive is called the Community Care Campaign.