Two landmarks celebrated at Dragon Boat Festival

By Cecilia Nasmith

The 2019 Northumberland United Way Dragon Boat Festival was the occasion for a double celebration Saturday – the 20th anniversary of this popular fundraising event, and the kick-off of the 50th annual United Way campaign.

Both were celebrated at the Cobourg Yacht Club, where a throng of volunteers and campaign-team members unrolled the banner announcing this year's $850,000 campaign goal.

Executive director Bobbie Dawson said that one in three Northumberland residents accesses services made possible by United Way, “and there's no telling the ripple effect of that impact.”

Along with the banner, volunteers displayed a large sign saying Local Love (with a United Way logo for the first O).

“United Way is sharing a powerful message about Local Love again this year, because we love where we live,” Dawson said.

“But local issues like homelessness, mental illness and social isolation are hurting our communities. Local issues can be easy to ignore or go unnoticed. However, by showing your local love, you can change that.

“When you donate to Northumberland United Way, your donation stays in your community. Your donation helps build a better community for everyone. That's what local love is all about.”

The Dragon Boat Festival provided a ready-made supportive crowd for the announcement, and Dawson turned the microphone over to former United Way executive director Lynda Kay, who has attended at every one of its 21 years.

That first festival day dawned rainy and foggy, she said, and six boats were delayed getting started. Then there were other years like the 2019 festival, when a beautiful summery day greeted the participants.

Kay recalled that the United Way in those days had begun its grant program in addition to supporting member agencies, and one of the first of these grants was to the Breast Cancer Survivor Thrivers group to help them purchase their first dragon boat.

Two of the United Way board members at the time, Blake Jones and Peter Delanty, wondered if a new fundraiser might be made out of this new purchase. That's how the festival began. Today it is as popular as ever, with sponsorship from the Town of Cobourg, Cobourg Dragon Boat and Canoe Club, Cameco Corporation, Cobourg Yacht Club and Lions Club of Cobourg.

Over its 20 years, Kay said, this event has raised $600,000 in support of the United Way.

And over its half-century, she added, United Way has spent about $25-million in the local community.

“A fantastic accomplishment,” she declared.