United Way kicks off fundraising efforts, sets $550,000 goal


Garthia Elena Burnett



Having a servant heart was the theme at Thursday''s United Way of Lowndes County campaign kickoff. It was a theme attendees could relate to, as they wiped the sweat from their brow to enjoy a lunch of pulled-pork sandwiches and baked beans. 


It was a small reward after a hard morning''s work. As part of the United Way''s annual campaign kickoff, contributors got a rare first-hand glimpse of the people their dollars help. From doing yard work for the elderly to assembling disaster kits and food bags, more than 150 volunteers fanned out all over Lowndes County, answering the call to service and being reminded that "there is fruit from your labor." 


Guest speaker Aundrea Self, an anchor at WCBI-TV and guest speaker for the event, took time out to reiterate the impact United Way donors and volunteers have. 


Over the years, Self has been able to tell the stories of many lives touched by United Way agencies. 


Contact Helpline, she said, fields 3,000 calls each month, from "the mentally ill, lonely and even people who are suicidal." 


Each day, volunteers with Contact Helpline also make 300 assurance calls to senior citizens "just to make sure they are OK." 


"These phone calls make a difference," Self said. 


In research for a story, Self discovered a startling fact: 180 children within the Columbus and Lowndes County school districts are homeless, living in hotels, abandoned houses or cars with their family. 


The Community Resource Connection helps those families by offering school supplies, food and, in some cases, finding housing opportunities. 


"I portrayed those stories because I want you to understand that there is fruit from your labor," Self said. 


And agencies need more than just money, she said; they need the time and talent of dedicated volunteers. 


Stewart Stafford, campaign chair for the United Way, compared the United Way to a football game, quoting from an Al Pacino speech in "Any Given Sunday." 


"He said football is really a game of inches," Stafford said of Pacino''s locker-room pep talk. "You have to fight for every inch. 


"United Way, I think, is that way. We have a lot of large contributors ... but we also have a lot of $5, $10 and $20 contributors, that when you add them up all over Lowndes County, they can make such a difference." 


This year, the United Way has set a goal of $550,000. Last year, the goal was $600,000. 


The agency fell short of that at about $510,000. 


But this year''s campaign already has gotten a large boost. 


Early campaigns, or Pacesetters, have raised $111,275, $9,000 more than the same companies raised last year. 


"We''re very optimistic," said Jan Ballard, executive director of the United Way of Lowndes County, noting the goal has been adjusted to reflect the impact of recession.




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