October 20, 2012 7:22:40 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
When it comes to campaigns, barnstorming presidential candidates don't have the only game in town. United Way of Lowndes County is also on the stump, and the results will be felt very close to home.
How well the constituency "votes" with its dollars in the coming weeks will directly affect how the community can care for some of its most vulnerable -- for those in crisis due to disaster, illness or layoffs, for the homebound and frail, for children in desperate need of safe harbor, and adults battling substance abuse.
The "turnout" will impact programs that offer youth a better chance at growing into responsible, moral citizens. It will help a dropout get that GED, and perhaps even save a life through suicide prevention.
That's what United Way agencies do. That, and more.
The goal is $600,000, and there is a long way to go before the campaign concludes in late November.
"Service to others. At its core, the mission of United Way of Lowndes County is to give each of us the opportunity to care for others through the important work of local non-profit organizations," said local educator Marilyn Agnew, who serves as the 2012 campaign fundraising chair. "It's why I serve on the United Way board. It's why I make a personal contribution, and it's why I ask everyone to join me."
Giving through United Way reduces time-consuming and costly fundraising efforts for individual United Way agencies, so their time can be spent helping others.
Donors can be confident that every assisted agency is reviewed annually by a knowledgeable team of staff and volunteers who ensure it follows sound financial practices. And contributions remain in Lowndes County. Less than one percent of each dollar raised goes to the national organization which, in turn, provides valuable resources.
New funding concept
The nationwide recession of the past several years has sharpened the need to do more with less. As United Way moves toward the 2013-2014 year, it will transition to a re-tooled funding concept called Community Impact Funding.
The goal is to galvanize and connect all sectors of the community -- individuals, businesses, non-profit organizations, faith leaders, health education and local government -- to develop strategies that grow or create new measurable, integrated, long-term solutions to some of the county's most pressing issues.
"In order to do this process right, it's going to take feedback and collaboration," said Jan Ballard, executive director of United Way of Lowndes County.
You can help.
Take the survey
What you know matters. Every citizen is asked to invest 10 minutes of time to take a confidential Community Needs Assessment survey found at unitedwaylowndescounty.com. Hard copy forms are also available from the United Way office and its funded agencies for anyone without access to the Internet. To get a form mailed to you, call 662-328-0943.
"The needs assessment is really critical to help us develop a broad picture that will help steer our funding in the future," stated Ballard. In addition to providing crucial information about community needs, statistics generated by the survey are necessary in applying for grants to justify the need for funds.
Survey issues range from your assessments on the most urgent issues facing community youth to the most critical needs of the disabled and elderly.
The results will be shared with human service providers, educators, health care providers and others who will benefit from the information. United Way focus groups made up of professionals and staff of organizations will also utilize the results in determining how best to fund programs that strengthen the community.
Sarah Heinkel serves as United Way of Lowndes County allocations chair.
"With the community's help, we will be better informed about the existing strengths and assets of our community, as well as gaps and redundancies in services," she stated.
Two new agencies were recently added to the United Way family of assisted organizations.
"After on-site visits and learning about the tremendous contributions Sally Kate Winters Family Services and The Father's Child Ministry make to Lowndes County, they were approved for funding," said Agnew.
Since the close of the Mark Mitchell Shelter in Columbus in 2004, Sally Kate Winters Family Services has been serving children from Lowndes County who have been removed from their homes because of neglect or some type of abuse, Ballard explained. "When Mark Mitchell closed, the need didn't go away," she said.
In the most recent quarter (July-September), Sally Kate Winters Services, which is physically located in West Point, served children from at least nine counties; almost 40 percent of them in the emergency shelter or in the runaway and homeless youth program were from Lowndes County, according to the agency's staff.
"The Father's Child Ministry is unique in that they address issues of fatherlessness and make a very strong effort to bring absent fathers back into their children's lives," Ballard stated. The organization also works with young men in making better decisions and understanding the responsibilities of fatherhood, she added.
As United Way of Lowndes County moves forward, it is exploring effective partnerships and new initiatives, such as after-school programs. It continues to provide the Community Volunteer Center, directed by Leslie Peel.
It supports outreach like the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen, the FamilyWize prescription discount card program, an annual fan drive, a Christmas Adopt a Family program and much more. The needs, and the work, are year-round.
"This is the time. We hope everyone will open their hearts and their pocketbooks to those that are less fortunate, and that the community sees us as good stewards of their money," said Campaign Co-Chair Kevin Stafford. "And we really need everybody to give us their input through the needs assessment survey; you tell us how you want us to spend your money."
Even a few dollars from many pockets, when joined together, can form a "super PAC" United Way can use to create lasting change.
"Together, our gifts will make a real difference in the lives of those we may never meet, but who will always be grateful because we cared," Agnew summed up.
How to give
Donations to United Way of Lowndes County can be made online at unitedwaylowndescounty.org, or sent by mail to its office at P.O. Box 266, Columbus, MS 39703. For more information, contact United Way at 662-328-0943. Visit the website to take the Community Needs Assessment survey.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.