11/22/10 — United Way campaign needs community's help

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United Way campaign needs community's help

By Steve Herring
Published in News on November 22, 2010 3:29 PM

United Way of Wayne County has four weeks left to raise the slightly more than $450,000 needed to reach its $1,400,932 goal.

However, campaign Chairman Lynn Williams is optimistic that the people of Wayne County will come through.

And the reason why they should, she said, is that the money that is raised through the annual campaign not only stays in the county, but last year helped one out of every four county residents in some fashion.

"I believe people in Wayne County have great compassion," she said. "I don't ever underestimate the compassion of the people of Wayne County."

The campaign has reached 67 percent, $947,738, of the goal as of Nov. 18. It is tracking slightly behind the same time last year when the campaign was at 71 percent of the goal.

The struggle to achieve the goal is further complicated by the loss of long-time staffer Suzie Acree, who has left to join the Wayne County Partnership for Children.

Ms. Acree, who is leaving because of health issues in her family, helped with marketing, dealing with partners and agencies. Mrs. Williams said United Way would not try to replace her right now, but rather focus on the campaign and make a new hire after the first of the year.

Earlier this year, the United Way of Wayne County hired Whitney Jansta part-time to help with marketing. Those items, such as brochures, posters and other campaign materials, have to be generated every year. Mrs. Williams said United Way now has the ability to do all of that in-house.

Mrs. Williams said that organizers have "not really" talked about what to do if the goal is not reached. However, in years past, the campaign has been extended to give companies and individuals more time to seek donations.

Also, the Fair Share drawings have been pushed to the end of the campaign so that more contributors will have a chance to win a chance to win a car, she said.

"My personal goal is to be done by the 16th of December -- to get your campaigns done, get things turned in and wrapped up by the 16th," she said. 'We will just have to wait and see. We have a lot of campaigns that are running late. We have had some timing issues, starting late."

So now, more than ever, Mrs. Williams is hoping that word of mouth -- and a new online donation push -- will get more Wayne County residents to check donation boxes on pledge cards this year.

"The key, I think, to what we will be able to accomplish is to be able to engage the new people to support United Way. I think the grassroots thing and the online campaign will reach people who maybe do not have campaigns at work."

The economy has affected the campaign and some of the larger campaigns have seen drops. But at the same time other companies have embraced the campaign and done "a wonderful job" encouraging employees to support the United Way effort, Mrs. Williams said.

"It is hard," she said. "We know that folks have lost jobs. We know there are economic circumstances out there."

But it is when times are hard that help is needed the most, Mrs. Williams said.

"We have a lot of hard-working people who have fallen into hard times and United Way partners with some of those agencies that help address some of those issues and help some of those folks. So our support does not need to waiver because the needs are huge."

So now, with most of the major campaigns already in, Mrs. Williams is calling on smaller businesses and individuals to step up and help provide the funds United Way partner agencies need to help their neighbors.

"What I am stressing is that every little bit counts. That $453,000 we still need to raise by Dec. 16 is going to come a little bit at a time and those little bits are going to make that big achievement."

The $1,400,932 campaign goal is not just a random number, either, Mrs. Williams emphasized. Every dollar is budgeted to support United Way programs in 2011.

"So if we don't make the goal, then the board will have to look at (where to appropriate the funds and where to cut)," she said. "Like everybody else, you have got to make hard choices. I don't think people realize that necessarily."

This year's goal is expected to help 28,018 people in the county.

"We talk about dollars, but what we are really talking about is people," Mrs. Williams said. "We are like every other community. We have our set of issues that we grapple with. United Way has a plan for addressing some of these core issues."

That is why United Way promotes, for example, after-school programs at the Boys & Girls Club including life skills and character development, she said.

"We have a proven record of being successful at what we do. We are a good investment, and we are looking at long-term solutions to issues."

United Way has added new focus areas and is looking at health and wellness and two areas particularly in that category -- obesity issues and teen pregnancies in Wayne County, she said.

"They are huge," she said. "So what can United Way, through its community agencies as partners, what can we do to meet the need and make a difference 10 years from now? That is what we are about.

"We are right here at home, making a difference at home. The funds we raise stay here and funneled right into programs and services for the specific needs of Wayne County."

The local agency is often impacted by concerns about the salaries paid to top national agency leadership, Mrs. Williams said. It is important for people to understand that United Way of Wayne County is a local organization that is focused on local needs, she said.

"These are local business people and volunteers who serve on the board, who weigh the community issues and determine our focus areas, who determine the funding. The money stays here in Wayne County. That (national salary issue) has nothing to do with us.

People can now give through both secure online donations at www.unitedwayne.org and the United Way's Facebook page.

"Together, we have to the power to be super," Mrs. Williams said. "Each one of us can do good things, but when we come together collectively as a community through United Way we can accomplish great things."