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Murder Mystery targets younger donors to Washington County United Way campaign

October 13, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

SHARPSBURG -- There was a loud bang and suddenly the calm night air at Antietam National Battlefield was filled with the screams of 60 "frightened" dinner guests - not to mention the occasional giggle.

The screamers, following cues from their hosts, were participating in the latest fundraising event for United Way of Washington County, a sold-out murder mystery dinner party held Sunday night at the Mumma Barn.

The $50-per-person event was organized to attract new, younger donors during a challenging fundraising campaign, said Leah Gayman, executive director of United Way of Washington County.

"This generation wants to get their hands dirty," Gayman said of the under-40 age group. "It's not just about writing a check."

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United Way will need to use this sort of creative fundraising to meet its record-high $2 million goal this year, when personal finances are tight but needs are greater than ever, Gayman said. United Way raises funds for more than two dozen local organizations, such as REACH, the Community Free Clinic and Red Cross of Washington County. Many of these groups are struggling as the economic crisis forces more people to turn to them for help, Gayman said.

So far, United Way has raised 20 percent of its goal, Gayman said.

Every agency or nonprofit that relies on donor dollars is being affected by the economic downturn, said Julie Barr-Strasburg, 50, of Hagerstown, who works for the Red Cross of Washington County, which gets almost 30 percent of its funding from the United Way.

Barr-Strasburg said she thought the murder mystery dinner party was a creative way to bring variety to the fundraising campaign.

Catered by Leiters' and produced by Murder Mysteries Will Travel, the party put guests in the role of extras in a saloon robbery scene from a Western movie. The extras were playing their parts when an investigator arrived to announce the movie studio's owner was dead, beginning a whodunit that spanned the rest of the evening as guests mingled with characters to dissect alibis and detect vendettas.

"It's fun," said guest Anita Lindsay, 70, of Falling Waters, W.Va. "And it's for a good cause."

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