Pacesetters out front for United Way

August 3, 2009 9:59:00 AM



As the Lowndes County chapter of the United Way gears up for its annual fundraising campaign, the umbrella organization has put its top earners at the tip of the spear. 


The Pacesetters are a group of businesses and organizations who have volunteered to get the ball rolling before the United Way''s big Sept. 10 kickoff. Just as the name implies, they''ll serve as an example to other organizations of what is possible when citizens are invested in their community. 


"Pacesetters is a preliminary fundraiser to help get a feel for the economy and set the tone for the upcoming campaign," said Jan Ballard, executive director of the Lowndes County United Way. "When the community sees they support our efforts, it encourages them to also participate." 


Participation, in this case, means giving money, which is crucial this year as the United Way works to overcome a $90,000 shortfall in its 2008 campaign.  


Giving could come in the form of a one-time contribution or participating employees may opt for a direct pay deduction to go to the United Way.  


Galloway-Chandler-McKinney Insurance of Columbus, for instance, is offering employees who donate one hour''s pay each month an extra day of yearly vacation. Office manager Sherry Thomas says that enticement, along with the satisfaction of giving to a necessary cause, has resulted in 100 percent participation among GCM''s 19 employees. 


Columbus Lanes bowling alley chose to hold their own fundraiser, their first annual Bowl-A-Thon, last weekend and again this Saturday and Sunday.  


Manager James Morton explained that for $15 per adult and $7.50 per child, individuals can bowl three games and rest assured that 90 percent of their money will go to the United Way. Columbus Lanes will keep only operating costs. 


"It''s something we''re going to try this year and, if it works out, we will hold it every year," said Morton. 


The event will be held on two weekends to allow city police and firefighters who work alternating weekends to participate. 


A United Way agency sponors a group of disabled bowlers who visit Columbus Lanes each Saturday. 


Other companies are helping out despite their own struggles. 


Holcim cement in Artesia was once one of the United Way''s biggest supporters but has since suffered its own economic troubles. Still, the plant will hold its annual golf tournament Oct. 31 at the Columbus Country Club to raise money for the United Way. 


"I''ve been here 13 years and each year they''ve done it," said Ballard of Holcim''s charity tournament. 


Some new industrial leaders are getting involved but aren''t sure exactly how they''ll do it. 


"We haven''t decided how to run our campaign," said Charlie Furman, external relations director for Severstal."We''ll do some thinking over the next 12 days or so, meet with employees, do some presentations. 


"We''ll explain to them (employees) the good work they''re doing. People don''t know the depth of help that follows from the United Way." 


Severstal employs 545 workers. 


Ballard says Lowndes County schools will also chip in. The Lowndes School District central office is on board for Pacesetters with more participation to follow from students when classes resume. 


The best-case-scenario will see the United Way meet its goal of $600,000 between now and Thanksgiving. That will get the United Way back in the black after being forced to dip into its reserves and make cuts to supported organizations in the past year. 


The economy has hurt the United Way in two ways. First, lost jobs in the area increase the demand for services from United Way-supported organizations. Second, many of those laid-off employees were the same allowing deductions from their checks to fund the United Way. 


Based on reports from the United Way''s sister organizations, Ballard says the Lowndes County chapter assisted nearly 17,000 citizens in some way in the past year. 


Those services include organizations like Dial-A-Bus, which transports senior citizens to and from the hospital and an agency that provides financial relief (utility bills, rent, medication, etc.) to cancer patients. Others include CONTACT Helpline, Recovery House and the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program. 


"They do this work so quietly behind the scenes that many are unaware of the work being done," says Ballard. 


The Pacesetters will do their part, but Ballard says more help is encouraged and needed. She says sports groups, community groups, businesses and everyone else is encouraged to call and help in some way, be it financial or volunteer work. 


To the latter, Lynn Atkins, chair of the Lowndes Pacesetters campaign, says many Pacesetter participants will take part in A Day To Care Sept. 10. 


"A lot of companies send employees to volunteer at United Way agencies. They''ve been to recovery house to help with painting and planting shrubs. Community Counseling has a lot of clients that need help. It''s an investment in the community and a great way to volunteer," said Atkins.