SJC BLOG


Monday Morning Coffee With the UCP Chili Challenge


Some like it hot.

Others like it with white beans, or no beans, or maybe pork. We’re talking chili, of course. Lots and lots of it — all in the name of a great cause. Now in its 33rd year, the UCP of Northwest Missouri Annual Heart of America Chili Challenge is set for March 3, 2019.

Each year the St. Joseph Civic Arena is filled with tables of friendly competitors, each vying for chili gold. There are hundreds of guests sampling chili and voting. Live music, a silent auction and special announcements throughout the day give it a festive atmosphere. It’s bright. It’s loud. It’s energizing. And it’s a much-anticipated event across the region each year.

And then there are the trophies, and we mean plenty of them. Standing like gleaming mini skyscrapers, they beckon novice chili cook-off contenders and repeat winners to take home the accolades or show them off at the office. These trophies can start a conversation in any month about secret chili methods or cooking-day traditions.

The secret ingredient to this annual recipe for success could be community spirit and enthusiasm around the work UCP does to help children and adults with disabilities live a “life without limits.” Another secret ingredient could be the way the organization creates a welcoming but organized and methodical approach each year, from the marketing to team recruitment to judge selection and more. The “all in” approach is demonstrated in the popular People’s Choice Award, in which participating chili teams recruit local donations leading up to the event. The top-level donation earner gets the title of People’s Choice, and competitors get very creative in raising thousands of dollars in support before any chili is even sampled. Or maybe it’s that the heart of the organization is evident across everything it undertakes all year, making the interest level in a grand one-day fundraiser even higher.

Whatever it is, it works. Each year, the event generates well over $100,000 in support for UCP of Northwest Missouri. On another level, the community is connected more closely — by way of chili — to the organization’s outcomes and mission and how it impacts everyone’s life. When trophies and awards are presented, it’s often the children and adults who participate in UCP’s programs who are on-hand to help and take part in photos. Facts and information are shared at every corner throughout the day. Volunteers and returning participants help share the word about UCP’s mission, even as they get down to the business of winning coveted chili titles. The online auction allows individuals to take part in the fun even if they can’t attend and typically showcases some unique auction offerings.

Is your organization considering an event, or already in the planning stages of hosting one or supporting one? There are many steps involved, but each step can get the community more integrated and more engaged with who you are and what you stand for. (Especially if you follow up with participants and volunteers periodically throughout the year through website information, emails, social media updates and video).

Sure, there’s a lot of fun and friendly banter about chili leading up to and during this special event. But surrounding it all is the message that UCP is about getting the whole community involved, from integrated preschool, to job development, to volunteer programs and special events that help people understand disabilities in the region. That’s a true recipe for success to rally around.