In front of a record setting crowd of nearly 700 volunteers, donors and supporters at LEGOLAND Florida Resort, United Way of Central Florida Campaign Co-Chairs Paul and Lynn Noris announced the 2017 campaign would be the organization’s largest ever.

The goal to raise $9.5 million, which would surpass the 2016 campaign by $300,000, is a lofty one, Paul Noris said, but achievable.

“Can we each do 10 percent more?,” he asked. “If you are giving $2 per paycheck, can you give $3? If $100 per year, can you give $110? We want to personally thank each of you for your commitment to United Way of Central Florida and to our communities. We hope you will join us in the drive to our 2017 goal of $9.5 million.”

Lynn Noris said the push to increase the campaign goal is fueled by a desire to change lives in Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties.

“United Way goes beyond temporary fixes to create lasting change and we hope you’ll join us,” she said. “Together, we surround our community’s most critical problems and we fight. Your passion, expertise and resources will help the fight become a win. United, we all win.”

Along with announcing the goal, Paul Noris also thanked this year’s volunteer campaign cabinet, employee campaign coordinators and loaned executives.

2017’s Loaned Executives are: Ashlan Bilbrey and Brittany Crawley, Publix Super Markets, Inc.; Beverly Faniel, Polk County School Board; Meg Thornton, Saddle Creek Logistic Services; Aaron Mouer, Maximize Digital Media; and Tom Costello, sponsored by Watson Clinic

Jennifer Kincart Jonsson, Vice President of A-C-T Environmental & Infrastructure, Inc., and the 2017 UWCF Board Chair, welcomed everyone and introduced LEGOLAND Florida Resort’s Public Relations Manager Brittany Williams who presented UWCF with a check for $12,860. LEGOLAND raised those funds by selling discounted tickets earlier this year.

“We are grateful for LEGOLAND’s support and for hosting us today,” said Jonsson. “Their generosity is extraordinary.”

One of United Way’s new messages is ‘United We All Win’,” Jonsson said. Referencing characters in The LEGO Movie, she continued, “Like Emmett and Wild Style, when working to find new solutions to old problems, we are more powerful as a team! We can’t do it without your help.”

This year’s Pacesetters already raised more than $500,000 by running their campaigns prior to today’s kickoff. Each of the 51 Pacesetter companies received a specially made Lego award.

The 2017 Pacesetter companies are: Achievement Academy, Aetna, American Red Cross – Mid-Florida Chapter, AT&T, Bank of Central Florida, Boring Business Systems, BUL-HED Corporation, Burris Logistics, Campfire USA Sunshine Council, Catholic Charities of Central FL, Central Florida Regional Planning Council, Church Service Center, Church Women United of Lakeland, Citizen’s Bank & Trust, Citrus Center Boys & Girls Club, City of Auburndale, City of Lake Alfred, City of Lake Wales, Concord Coffee Company, Crown Printing, Inc., Curry Controls Co., Explorations V Children’s Museum, Fairfield Logistic Advisors, Florida Epilepsy Services, Florida Prosperity Partnership, Focus Realty, Frostproof Care Center, GiveWell Community Foundation, Heacock Insurance Group, Heart of Florida Legal Aid Society, Heartland National Bank, Highlands Regional Medical Center, Imperial Florida Sales Company, InnerAct Alliance, Lakeland Brewing Company, Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine, Learning Resource Center of Polk County, LEGOLAND, Lighthouse for the Blind, Macy’s, Mitchell’s Coffee House, Moretrench Services, Neighborhood Service Center, Polk Vision, Inc., Target, United Way of Central Florida, VISTE, Wall Titus Financial, LLC, Watson Clinic, LLP, Wells Fargo, Winter Haven Hospital, and Women’s Care Center of Bartow.

The morning’s festivities closed with Alan H Turner II, president and CEO of UWCF, sharing this year’s campaign video.

“We bring people together to fight against our community’s most daunting social crises,” Turner said. “United, you are helping United Way of Central Florida improve lives and strengthen our community. United, we all win. We couldn’t do it without you.”

Turner also announced the new event Build United, a food drive with a twist that will bring attention to the food hardships faced by many Central Florida families.

“Build United will help collect much needed food through an fun, interactive contest, challenging competitors to build creative structures with non-perishable foods,” Turner siad. “There will be a contest that culminates with a public vote on Facebook to determine who constructs the best looking object. Then all the food used for the competition will be donated to local food banks and pantries.”

Publix Super Markets Charities partnered with United Way of Central Florida and will donate $1 for every can collected, up to $50,000. These funds will be invested in financial education classes, offered at some of the organizations where families will pick up the food.

UWCF’s campaign will run through the end of the year and the final amount raised will be revealed at the annual meeting, held in May, 2018.