OUR OPINION: United Way celebrates 50 years of generosity

By NEMS Daily Journal

Fifty years ago this week the United Way of Northeast Mississippi officially organized, named itself Lee United Neighbors, and began raising money for its 21 affiliated agencies, and completed a campaign that netted $103,446.
The organization rose from the visionary planning and collaboration of five staunch civic leaders – Daily Journal Publisher George McLean, Renasant (then Peoples) Bank President Cliff Eason; Rockwell International executive manager John Osberg, retail executive Jack Reed, Sr., and Chancery Clerk John A. “Red” Rasberry, who began meeting earlier that year to develop the ideas and methods for a countywide united appeal for philanthropic and service organizations like the Red Cross, Boy Scouts and Cerebral Palsy.
The founding five then tapped businessman and civic activist Julius Berry to become the first campaign chairman, and chose Mem Leake to serve as Fund Chairman.
In the years since, the organization has become regional, and it has raised $37 million.
It has 65 partner agencies, and its board includes member-supporters from Lee, Pontotoc, Union, Chickasaw, Tishomingo, Prentiss, and Itawamba counties.
The 2011 campaign for United Way expects to raise more than $2 million – 20 times the amount of the first year.
The underlying success for United ay in our region has been incredible loyalty.
Some of the people who were volunteers for the first campaign in 1961 are still active as volunteers, and many more are donors.
The contributions of those who have died are symbolized in the Julius Berry Award, presented each year by United Way to the volunteer leader who best exemplifies the enthusiasm and generous spirit Berry brought to the effort – and the example he set for those who followed.
As United Way President Chauncey Godwin, Jr., noted in the 50th anniversary newsletter, “It was you who helped neighbors in need put more food on the table. You held food drives for food pantries, delivered groceries to homebound people and served meals t seniors.
“It was you who prepared more kids to succeed in school – and in life. You surrounded struggling families with support,, showed moms and dads how to help their kids thrive, and kept kids safe and healthy.”
Campaign Chairman Greg Pirkle noted in his comments that United Way conducts more than 250 workplace campaigns in businesses like Journal, Inc. as well as the largest manufacturers and employers in the region.
Pirkle noted that the gifts of more than 10,000 donors are leveraged into actual services whose value multiplies with the results achieved – “a critical safety net that protects all of us,” as he describes it.
United Way also thrives because it is an open door organization.
New volunteers are always welcome and encouraged. Call (662) 841-9133 about becoming a volunteer.