United Way’s 401Gives Day helped local nonprofit stay open through the pandemic

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FOSTER, R.I. (WPRI) — Thursday is United Way of Rhode Island’s 401Gives Day, a one-day fundraising push to help nonprofits across Rhode Island.

One local organization that stayed afloat during the pandemic, gives thanks in part to the donations from last year’s event.

George Huddleston is a 35 year Army Veteran who has been deployed seven times, the leader of troops, the keeper of battleground secrets no ordinary person could bear, but his biggest secret was internalized after he retired.

“I had just gone through my third divorce, I was in a bad way, I was struggling with failure issues, feeling like a failure… I couldn’t come home and I couldn’t sell myself to my daughters,” he said.

Huddleston was caught in the space between active duty and civilian life, and like so many veterans he was struggling to find purpose until he found the Dare to Dream Ranch.

“I lost my way. I found it very difficult,” Huddleston recalled. “It’s been a godsend ever since. I’m finding myself out here, farming is mission, purpose, and structure and the comradery is we are strictly a military facility.”

Dare to Dream Ranch is a nonprofit organization in Foster that provides alternative therapy programs for Veterans.

“I get to relate and spend time with Veterans just like me and we can relate to each other and we can help each other,” Huddleston said.

Karen Dalton started the ranch in 2016 and now it runs seven programs a year, serving up to 900 service members, Veterans, and their families.

“If you can help just one person overcome the emotional challenges that they are going through, it makes it all worthwhile,” she said.

Support and Service — it’s what all the 3,500 nonprofits across the state have to offer, and the reason the United Way of RI is powering a one-day fundraiser for them.

“We want to connect people to the nonprofits that make their lives better every day,” Chief Engagement Officer of United Way RI Brooke Havens said.

401Gives Day is held on April 1, which represents Rhode Island’s area code — 401.

This year, they say it is especially important since 2020 was a double hit for nonprofits in the state with the pandemic collapsing their traditional fundraising opportunities, and at the same time, the need for their services increased.

“You think about organizations like Meals on Wheels when all of a sudden meals on wheels is delivering food to isolated seniors and last year their client base exploded,” Havens said.

“If we hadn’t had 401Gives, we probably would not have made it through the year,” Dalton recalled.

Last year’s goal was $1 million, and $1.3 million was raised with $50,000 coming from matching funds from the Rhode Island Foundation, which is making the same offer this year.

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