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Chances are if you saw a giant yellow duck walking outside Slumberland Furniture on Thursday afternoon, it was actually 12-year-old Ava Rickert.

The young girl donned the costume despite the warm weather for a couple of hours all for a good cause: The Lazy River Duck Run.

"My neighbor is one of the helpers on this, so my mom volunteered us and it sounded kind of fun," Rickert said in costume while waving to those in passing vehicles. "It's been a lot of people honking and stuff. It's funny to see their reactions."

Hopes to be a lucky duck and win some serious cash later this summer are officially in full gear, as the Columbus Area United Way kicked off ticket sales for its annual Lazy River Duck Run earlier this week.

On Thursday, United Way staffers and volunteers were at Slumberland Furniture and Pinnacle Bank East selling tickets good for rubber ducks that will race for prizes as part of Columbus Days in August. This year's version takes place on the Lazy River at Pawnee Plunge on Aug. 16.

All of the funds raised go to the United Way direct programs and partner agencies such as Boys Scouts of America, Columbus Family YMCA, Girls Scouts Spirit of Nebraska, Platte County Food Pantry and more.

On top of the proceeds for the community, participants are, again, eligible for prizes based on the results of their individual duck or ducks. The grand prize is $10,000.

Other prizes include a dream vacation voucher valued at $6,000, groceries for a year, a summer fun package valued at $1,100 that includes two 10-foot kayaks and a $500 gift card and many other prizes.

Those interested in the event can buy tickets at participating financial institutions such as Pinnacle Bank, Columbus Bank and Bank of the Valley, from service club members or at the local United Way office, 3020 18th. St.

Last year, the campaign sold more than 17,000 ducks and raised over $60,000. United Way officials hope to raise even more this year.

Columbus Area United Way Executive Director Pat Heimes said it's the Columbus community that makes the event and the funds raised a possibility.

"We have so much support," she said. "We have wonderful support from the community, just selling the 17,000 duck tickets alone and all the help we get. It's a fun event that people like to take the challenge to try and win $10,000. This is our 22nd year. We've given away a lot of prizes and a lot of money. We've raised a lot of money through this event.

"Thousands and thousands of people are helped through programs like our mentoring programs and our emergency relief and literacy. The money goes right back to the community and helps many, many people."

According to Heimes, many volunteers are also needed to make this program a possibility.

Katy McNeil was one of several people who bought tickets for ducks the first day of the campaign. She said she likes to help the United Way.

"I really just support a lot of the programming that United Way has throughout the communities," she said.

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McNeil said she has gone to the Duck Run every year that she's lived in Columbus, which has been four years.

"It's kind of fun to watch them and hope that yours is crossing the finish line first," she said.

McNeil also said she is a fan of the causes the United Way supports.

"I really do support all of the causes that they distribute the money to throughout the year," she said. "It goes back into education and it goes into the community. It stays here where it’s needed and gets distributed as needed. They've done a great job in the community just helping out, like with the flood relief. They played a big role in that as well. It's a good cause."

Danielle Beiermann also bought some tickets at the kickoff event.

"I like to come and purchase these ducks for my father and father-in-law for father’s day because they have everything already and this is something that's just kind of fun for them to look forward to," Beiermann said.

Peter Huguenin is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at peter.huguenin@lee.net

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