ST. ALBANS — Franklin/Grand Isle United Way held its annual meeting at the St. Albans Historical Society and Museum on Wednesday, and while speakers acknowledged the tough nature of this past year economically, socially, and seasonally for the two counties, they also cited those issues as the reason to give back.

Terri O’Shea, president of the FGIUW Board of Directors, opened the meeting with an overview of United Way’s 34th year operating in the two-county area.

“We faced a lot of challenges,” O’Shea said, indicating the various businesses that closed in the past year, substance abuse in the area, and the long, cold winter. But, she added, “there were a lot of good things that happened.”

Though FGIUW did not meet its fundraising goal, it did raise 90 percent of it at $473,138.00. O’Shea pointed out that United Way was able to meet all its commitments with that money, and she thanked the 1,850 volunteers, donors, and funded organization members who gave to this year’s campaign.

“There are a lot of families that didn’t go hungry because of those gifts,” O’Shea said.

The challenge of approaching tough situations, and not forgetting those going through a struggle, was a theme throughout the meeting. Sally Bortz, FGIUW executive director, spoke at length about the importance of helping others.

“Helping makes us feel whole,” she said. Not walking away from issues, but trying to understand and make a difference in the future, said Bortz, is what makes life meaningful.

“You can see and be that yourself,” Bortz told the audience. “There’s lots of ways you can provide for others.”

Bortz walked around the room, handing the microphone to various United Way volunteers and organization members to speak to the importance of helping others.

Walt Gaskill, Northwest Family Foods director, shared stories of families he had met in the area who were struggling to find a stable situation. One family was living in a dugout, coping with substance abuse, with the woman expecting a child. Gaskill said that he thought about these families long after he finished speaking with them and that he had an interest in what their future would be.

“Because these are people in our community, too,” Gaskill said, adding that those people in trying times have untapped potential for good.

“You don’t forget them,” he said. “They’re out there.”

Louise Luneau, a Turning Point staff member, reinforced Gaskill’s message by sharing her own story of overcoming a challenge of addiction through community help at Turning Point, a United Way grant recipient.

“I am in long-term recovery,” she said. “Turning Point has helped save my life.”

Luneau started volunteering at the substance abuse recovery center in November 2012, and was quickly employed by February 2013.

“Now I’m able to give back to my community,” Luneau said. “It’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.”

About half of the funds raised by the local United Way came through employee campaigns. To talk about motivating employees to give back, Kristin Carlson, Green Mountain Power public relations representative and former reporter for WCAX Channel 3, acted as guest speaker at the meeting.

With more than 600 employees, GMP has a large group to work with. Through fundraisers such as barbeques, raffles, having GMP’s CEO sit in a dunking booth, and holding silent auctions where most items were offered through or made by employees, Carlson said employees were able to be involved.

“It empowers employees to give back,” Carlson said.

Carlson spoke about GMP’s mission to build stronger communities, both through more efficient, cleaner technology and by donating to United Way. “We want to be part of [figuring out], ‘How do you help people live better?’” she said.

“Let’s challenge ourselves to do more, to never forget our neighbors in need,” Carlson added.

Near the end of the meeting, FGIUW handed out its annual awards. GMP received the Corporate Giving Award, Peoples Trust Company was the recipient of the Community Giving Award.

In addition, FGIUW recognized two significant contributors to the Operation Happiness project: Karin Berno, the project’s toy coordinator of 11 years, and the John LeClair Foundation, a big donor to the project.

“Thank you all for living united,” Bortz said.