On the eve of the Olympics Games, about 400 local “champions” gathered for the United Way of the Great Fort Hood Area 2017 Celebration Luncheon at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center on Thursday.

This year’s theme was “Every Community Needs a Champion.”

Hilary Shine, board president for the local United Way, started the festivities saying the United Way went for the gold.

“Our children are the athletes in today’s United Way campaign celebration and you, our community champions, are their coaches,” Shine said.

The goal for the 2017 fundraising season was $650,000, said United Way executive director Aaron Montemayor.

“We don’t have the final tally, but we anticipate reaching it,” Montemayor said. He praised the spirit of all donors that give each year.

“I wish we could export the heart of this community to the rest of the country; it’s just amazing,” he said.

Students dressed as Olympic athletes marched into the ballroom as Shine read introductions of various Olympic sports, such as archery, tennis and soccer. Special Olympic athlete Tiffany Wheeler of Harker Heights High School served as torchbearer. The Olympic flame wasn’t a real fire, but rather, colored streamers propelled by air.

Platinum Awards went to organizations that gave $25,000 and above: Central Texas College, Killeen Police Department, the Copperas Cove Independent School District, H-E-B Copperas Cove, H-E-B Harker Heights, H-E-B Killeen No. 2 on West Stan Schlueter Loop, H-E-B Killeen No. 3 on Trimmier Road and Metroplex Health System.

Double Platinum was awarded for $50,000 or more to the Killeen Independent School District.

Triple Platinum award for $75,000 and more was awarded to the city of Killeen.

Mega Platinum award for $100,000 or more went to H-E-B Food Stores. Local H-E-B locations have raised more than $500,000 over the last five years.

For the second year in a row, Williams/Ledger Elementary School in Copperas Cove received the Most Per Captia award raising $101 per employee. The Biggest Improvement award was presented to Atmos Energy. Thank You awards went to Hilary Shine, Sherry Hoffpauir and Jim Yeonopolus, also keynote speaker.

Yeonopolus, chancellor of Central Texas College and campaign chairman, said a community champion can be anyone.

“A public official, a health care worker or a volunteer, who works hard and well to address an unmet need, and whatever they do, they think of the community before themselves,” he said.

In keeping with the Olympic theme, Constance Smith, volunteer coordinator for The Refuge Corporation said everyone is a a gold medal winner, especially when they are a team player.

“We need to remember that we’re better together,” she said.

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