09/01/06 — United Way shows off 'Portraits of Promise'

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United Way shows off 'Portraits of Promise'

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on September 1, 2006 1:47 PM

Poignant pictures told stories of hope, happpiness and success at United Way of Wayne County's Portraits of Promise event Thursday at the Arts Council.

Five large black-and-white portraits paired a local resident who has been helped by United Way with a local volunteer with the organization.

Local photographer Brian Strickland took the pictures, which were then enlarged by Sage Creative Works in Aiken, S.C. The company also designed the portrait package including the print material.

The portraits told stories of lives changed -- and even saved -- by United Way of Wayne County. But there are more than 28,800 more who need help, according to United Way officials.

One portrait was "Carlos and Penelope." They are clasping hands and hugging with smiles on their faces. The photograph told the story of Penelope Taylor, who was in an accident when she was a teenager. The accident took her best friend's life and crushed her pelvis and jaw and collapsed her lung.

She wouldn't be alive today if not for the life-saving blood she received through the American Red Cross. The young mother now has two children of her own.

The portrait pairs Mrs. Taylor with volunteer Carlos Cotto who said that today she is "so full of life, so bubbly and effervescent that it's hard to believe what she went through. And the worst part is that it could happen to any of us. That's why I want to be one of those foot soldiers out there making a difference. That's United Way."

Another portrait was of "Alexus and Bonnie," a woman hugging a girl. Alexus is a 9-year-old girl living in community housing with her mother. Limited funds and transportation prohibited her from taking part in any extracurricular activities.

But through the Girls Scouts' community housing program, Alexus has the chance to be a part of something positive -- just like other girls her age.

In the photograph, she was paired with Bonnie Gray who said that through Girl Scouts, Alexus has a safe place to go and learn the values of scouting.

"Most people in our community know of United Way, but may only see us as a fundraising organization," United Way volunteer Bill Brewer said during the event. "That perception is far from accurate and very few can identify how deeply United Way's programs touch lives throughout our community. Tonight, we will begin to change that perception."

Brewer said that Portraits of Promise reflects the crucial role United Way has in this community. The exhibit showed Wayne County residents who have been helped by United Way agencies. It also showed the familiar faces of investors -- United Way volunteers who are helping make a difference.

"By investing in United Way, you're not simply making a donation -- you're investing in the good of your community; in the happiness, safety or even life of a human being in our community," Brewer said.

A third portrait was "Fred and Tasha." Fred has lived with autism for 31 years, which has made it difficult for him to live a full and self-sufficient life. His mother turned to the Wayne Opportunity Center for help for her son. The center found Fred a job at Coker's Mill and a place to live close by. Fred was able to get his driver's license and buy a car with his earnings.

He was paired with volunteer Tasha Logan. She said that she saw a young man with dreams and things he wanted to accomplish when she met Fred. "A job, his own place to live and a driver's license may be simple to some people, but autism can hinder those dreams."

The next portrait was "Bethany and Susie." Susie grew up watching her mother beaten and degraded daily by her father. Her mother began fearing for her life and the lives of her children and knew it was time to get out. But she had no clue where to turn. She discovered the Lighthouse of Wayne County and had a safe place to stay and received counseling to get their lives back together again. Today, Susie is headed toward a promising future with a college scholarship.

She was paired with Bethany Perry, who stated that by working with United Way, she has seen that there are real people right here in Wayne County who need help. She said she is confident that if she ever needed help, it would be readily available.

The last portrait was "Elizabeth and John." Elizabeth, 75, lives alone with no family nearby to help. She gets nutritional support and a friendly face checking on her through United Way's nutrition program. Through the program, Elizabeth -- and many of Wayne County's seniors -- can live independently in their own home.

She was paired with John Langston who said that after seeing the heartfelt thanks in Elizabeth's eyes, he knows that what he's doing through United Way really makes a difference.

The Portraits of Promise exhibit will be making its rounds at various locations throughout Wayne County, including local banks, the museum and hospital.