All the difference: United Way way agencies can

October 31, 2009 10:01:00 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


Mamie Cunningham, at 93, likes to sit on the front porch of her home, absorbing the comings and goings of the neighborhood. The longtime Columbus resident takes pleasure, too, in the time she spends with family members each day. It''s a joy made more special for the wheelchair-bound woman since her doctors'' recent pronouncement that she is cancer-free. 


The treatment process was arduous, to say the least, but Cunningham credits the Council on Aging''s Dial-a-Bus with easing the ordeal. The transportation program for the elderly and handicapped is one of more than 18 agencies funded in part by United Way of Lowndes County. 


Any of those agencies could be the one that makes a significant difference in someone''s life, perhaps even our own or a family member''s someday. As United Way enters the final stages of its annual fundraising campaign to raise $600,000, it is relying on a generous community spirit to help keep vital services and programs operating. 


"Radiation, five days a week for five weeks," said Christine C. Higgins, Cunningham''s daughter. "All her doctor''s appointments, all her blood work -- the Dial-a-Bus took her every time. It''s such a great benefit because it can lift the whole chair -- and me -- without her having to get out of it." 


"It really is a blessing," agreed Cunningham, who suffers from arthritis. "It''s so good to have it; and everyone we deal with is friendly." 




Independent living 


For Pecolia Turner, 62, Dial-a-Bus is the difference between being able to remain in her Columbus home and having to move to Georgia to live with one of her daughters. 


The Hunt High School alumna returned to her hometown after Hurricane Katrina devastated her New Orleans neighborhood. Battling arthritis and diabetes, she now uses a "walking stick" for the very short distances she can navigate. 


Dial-a-Bus, available to those 60 and older, gives Turner the freedom to get to her doctors'' appointments and the grocery store, allowing her to continue living on her own. 


"It would really be a hardship if we didn''t have it," she stated. "We don''t have any other transportation here, no city buses. And the drivers are trustworthy and very helpful; they always try to work with you." 




Daily meals 


Another United Way-supported Council on Aging program helps 80-year-old Inell Herron of Columbus stay in her home. With Home Delivered Meals, Herron receives a hot, nutritious meal Monday through Thursday, plus a meal she can heat up for Friday. They are brought right to her door, with a friendly smile. 


Sherry Boone packages the food into portable containers for daily delivery to approximately 30 clients who are mostly homebound. 


"We provide a meat, two vegetables, bread and a dessert," said Boone, who has worked with the program for about 13 years. 


Dial-a-Bus and Home Delivered Meals are only two examples of how United Way is at work in the community. But the workload is growing, and the needs have escalated. 




Economic climate 


United Way-supported agencies have seen firsthand the impact of the strained economy. 


"The need from families who have experienced lay-offs or reduced hours is up considerably," said United Way Executive Director Jan Ballard. "Helping Hands, Salvation Army and CONTACT Helpline are receiving more calls from people who have burdens they don''t necessarily want to share with their family or close friends. Many are calling for the first time."  


Community Resource Connection, another agency, has received calls from people who fear becoming homeless due to lost wages, Ballard added. 


"And the Greater Columbus Learning Center is working with more people who have been laid off, who are going back to have their skills assessed, or are going back to school or looking at other jobs. ... There seems to be a glimmer of hope now (in the economy)," she continued. "We still have a long way to go to reach our goal. We appreciate so much those companies and individuals who contribute to United Way. We really want to stress that any contribution, no matter the size, helps build toward reaching that goal and funding our agencies." 


For every individual story like Mamie Cunningham, Pecolia Turner or Inell Herron, there are dozens upon dozens more, spreading from other supported agencies including the Tenn-Tom Chapter of the American Red Cross, Recovery House, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, YMCA, youth clubs, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. In the end, through payroll deductions or one-time gifts, it will be the community who can help provide the uplifting endings that may just make ... all the difference. 


To find out how to give, or to learn more about the agencies, contact United Way of Lowndes County, 501 Seventh St. N., in Columbus, 662-328-0943, or visit

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.