SHIPSHEWANA — United Way has embraced its own slogan, “Live United,” after a yearlong exploration process.

On Friday morning, United Way of Elkhart County and United Fund of LaGrange County officially merged during a presentation at the Blue Gate Restaurant in Shipshewana.

“We’re so grateful to all of you for opening your doors and helping us to bridge this gap,” said Mimi Wismer, the former director of United Fund.

Wismer will serve as the director of LaGrange County at the newly established United Way of Elkhart and LaGrange Counties.

“The foundation of our organization is to serve our community in the best possible way,” she said.

The merger, she said, will give United Way the “ability to adapt with the changing times and build a stronger network through collaboration.”

Each county will continue to raise money and address the issues most pressing while maintaining existing staff.

Bill Rieth, CEO at United Way of Elkhart and LaGrange Counties, put the organization’s efforts into perspective by quoting investor Warren Buffet.

“‘Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago,’” Rieth said. “And today, we are planting seeds, seeds of change; and these seeds are going to grow and have a giant impact.”

Organizers led the combined boards in an on-site activity at the Blue Gate Restaurant. They created 60 novelty kits for children in the CASA program in Elkhart and LaGrange counties. Board members took turns at various stations, from toy and game distribution to writing notes of joy and encouragement.

Following the project, Farmers State Bank presented the organization with a check for $1,500. Board member Gary Dunker shared that Farmers State Bank will give a paid day off to any employee who contributes their “fair share” to the yearly campaign.

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