The United Way of Ellis County officially kicked off its 2018 fundraising campaign Friday and Saturday with a goal of $400,000 and a challenge to the public.

“The United Way is more than just raising money. We’re also challenging acts of kindness,” Executive Director Sherry Dryden said at Friday’s kickoff at the Hays Area Chamber of Commerce member luncheon.

The public kickoff was set for Saturday, with the Kids Cook Off to Kick Off hamburger grilling contest at the Downtown Pavilion.

The organization has placed 65 painted rocks — one for each year of its existence — around Hays with a message on one side asking the finder to commit an act of kindness, then bring the rock to the United Way office, 205 E. Seventh, Ste. 111, to share their act and get a prize.

The United Way had a jump-start for the campaign with several businesses last month, and Dryden said that has gotten the campaign off to a good start. Commerce Bank saw increases in employee payroll deduction donations, she said.

“Less than a week after we had that kickoff, they came back with 100 percent participation and 16 percent increase in giving,” Dryden said.

Scott Boomer, co-host of “The Morning Show” on KAYS radio, is chairman of the 2018 campaign. He said a health crisis in his family about five years ago made him realize everybody needs help at some point.

“Life happens. There’s things that happen in your life you don’t plan for,” he said.

“Everybody had a time in their life when you need help. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, there’s no reason to ask for help, and so it’s wonderful when you live in a community like this and the people that donate like they do and give like they do, that we have this organization to help,” he said.

“There is no donation too large or too small. Every donation helps,” he said.

The United Way of Ellis County supports 21 programs with 15 local agencies and provides a directory of local assistance resources at elliscountykshelp.com and in a printed brochure.

Agencies that partner with United Way and their programs are:

• American Red Cross — Disaster Services, Health and Safety, Services to Armed Forces, Biomedical Services

• Big Brothers/Big Sisters — mentoring program

• Cancer Council of Ellis County — financial services, nutritional supplement

• Catholic Charities — counseling services

• Center for Life Experiences — childcare expansion program

• Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation — family support services

• Court Appointed Special Advocates — improving quality of services to volunteers and children

• Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas — job placement follow along program

• Early Childhood Connections — Connections summer preschool

• First Call for Help — backpack for kids, info/referral program, meals on wheels

• Hays Area Children’s Center —early intervention services

• Options — shelter house services

• Parents and Children Together — ten steps to positive parenting

• Salvation Army —project suitcase

• Western Kansas Association on the Concerns of the Disabled — transportation work voucher program