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Taking the reins at United Way

Detroit Lakes native Kari Williams was appointed June 1 as the new president of the United Way of Becker County for 2012-13. She and her husband Mike both grew up in Detroit Lakes, then moved away for a few years before coming back to the community 19 years ago to raise their children. Photo By - Vicki Gerdes

Though she is a Detroit Lakes native, it wasn't until about six years ago that Kari Williams first became involved with the United Way of Becker County.

"I had a good friend who was the chair of the Community Celebration that year, and she needed a co-chair," Williams said.

About five years ago, she was appointed to fill out the term of a United Way board member who had resigned, and "I've been on the board ever since," she added.

On June 1, Williams ascended to the top spot in the organization.

"I became the new United Way president," she said.

What this means is that for the next 12 months, she will spearhead the United Way's 2012-13 fundraising campaign.

"This year's theme is 'Be Somebody's Hero... Give, Care, Share,'" she said. "Our goal is to raise $225,000, through our business and payroll drives, and various fundraisers."

The funds raised will then be disbursed to support the United Way's local partner agencies in 2013.

"We support approximately 30 non-profits in Becker County," Williams said.

In addition, the United Way also sponsors several community events during the year, including the Celebration of Heroes awards reception in April, the Day of Caring community service project in May, and the Community Celebration in September, which is a showcase for the organization's partner agencies.

"We also sponsor the Food for Thought Backpack Program," Williams said, noting that the program has expanded to include not only Detroit Lakes schools, but also Frazee-Vergas and Lake Park-Audubon.

The program, which runs during the school year from September through May, provides a backpack full of food to children in need every Friday, so that they will have something to eat when school is not in session over the weekend.

Williams said that while there are a lot of programs the United Way oversees during the year, it's still a fun organization to be a part of.

"I love it," she said. "Our United Way is such a wonderful organization, and we have a great leader in Luann (Porter, the local organization's executive director).

"It's a fun board, active and energetic -- and it's just a great organization to be a part of."

Kari and her husband Mike Williams, who will celebrate their 33rd anniversary next month, have known each other most of their lives.

"We were high school sweethearts," she said. "My husband is a Richwood native, and we both graduated from Detroit Lakes High School."

They are also both graduates of Moorhead State University

Williams recently switched careers, becoming the manager at the Pit 611 bar/restaurant in Cormorant, after six years as an administrative assistant with State Bank & Trust's investment division.

Though they have lived much of their lives in Detroit Lakes, Mike and Kari did spend a few years elsewhere.

"Mike's first job (after college) was with Ryder Truck Rental in Milwaukee," Williams said. "From there, we went to Rockford, Ill., and then to Minneapolis, and then back here.

"We have been back in the area for about 19 years," Williams said. "We came back here to raise our kids."

Mike and Kari now have five grown children between the ages of 20-30.

"Our youngest will be a junior at UND this fall," she said. "The rest have all completed college, or are working."

Though she doesn't yet have any grandchildren, Williams said, all that is going to change this year.

"We have two of them on the way," she added with a smile. "One is due Nov. 27, and the other Dec. 11 -- just two weeks apart."

Though they have not always lived in Detroit Lakes, now that they are back home, Williams said, they have no plans to leave.

"We came back to our hometown because we both love this community," she said. "We love the lakes and the outdoors, and all the things there are to do here."

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454