United Way goes over the top

By CHRIS WILSON
Staff Writer

Monroe Countians are generous about caring for others. That is evidenced through their charitable contributions, even during otherwise bleak economic times.

The United Way of Greater Monroe County is the recipient of those charitable actions. But the many agencies and organizations that are funded through the United Way of Greater Monroe County are the big winners.

Last week the United Way released its final fund-raising campaign total for the 2002-2003 Campaign. According to United Way Executive Director Patti Parker, a record $179,479 was raised.

Last August the campaign goal was set at $175,000. This marks the third year United Way has reached and exceeded goal amounts. Over $125,000 was raised during the 2001 campaign, $150,000 during 2002 and the 2003 figure comes in $1,479 above the projected goal.

“So many people throughout the county have been so generous, despite our own economic concerns,” said Parker. “We have had another record campaign year, and it is due to each and every one of those caring individuals who chose to respond to the needs of our community by giving to United Way.”

Parker noted that the campaign theme for 2003 was “Compassion In Action.” United Way brochures and advertisements this year featured photos of United Way contributors and volunteers from all parts of Monroe County.

Henry Adams, President of NBC Bank in Hamilton, is also the current president of the United Way Board of Directors. He and fellow NBC Bank employee, Debbie Hull, were featured in United Way advertisements last fall.

“I feel very fortunate to be a part of an organization that helps so many people in our community,” Adams said. “When you see how your payroll contribution is used to make a difference in the lives of individuals and families, you know that United Way works.”

In addition to funding agencies, United Way also makes available smaller venture grants to organizations for special programs or projects. Hull is a member of Loving Hands Outreach in Hamilton, an organization which has been a recipient of a United Way Venture Grant.

“United Way this year helped Loving Hands provide Thanksgiving meals to approximately 30 families,” Hull said. “I have seen first-hand how United Way helps my organization.”

Georgia Gulf in Aberdeen and Kerr McGee in Hamilton continue to be the largest contributors to the United Way. This year the combined donation from Georgia Gulf Corporation and its employees was the largest single donation in United Way’s 13-year history. Employees at Georgia Gulf in Aberdeen contributed $27,397 and the company gave another $23,000 to bring its total to $50,397.

“This year we had 85 generous givers (employees giving one hour/month of their base pay) which boosted our total contribution, said Georgia Gulf’s United Way chairman John Ray Hamilton. “We are extremely proud of our campaign and wish to thank our corporate office for their generous donation …”

“Our committee members helped increase participation by personal contact and providing information on the agencies supported by United Way,” said co-chairman Richard Baty.

Kerr McGee Corporation has also made United Way giving a top priority in Monroe County, more than tripling its contribution for 2003.

Learnard Dickerson, Kerr McGee community relations coordinator, said the plant’s employees have continuously been generous in supporting the United Way. For three years in a row, employee donations exceeded the previous year’s goals.

“When our Oklahoma office saw this commitment from our employees, they decided to make a bigger contribution to the United Way, both in Monroe County and in Lowndes County.”

“From now on we’re going to fund the (United Way) agencies that can affect the greater good,” Dickerson said.

Kerr McGee employees will still continue to make individual contributions to the United Way in the years to come, but the corporate office has made a bigger commitment to the United Way than in the past and will continue to, Dickerson said.

The top ten contributors to this year’s United Way campaign, besides Georgia Gulf and Kerr McGee, include Bauhaus, Monroe County School employees, Gilmore Memorial Hospital, True Temper Sports, ITT Industries, Wal-Mart, UPS and Summit Boats.

“We are very thankful for all the businesses that contribute to the United Way, both through corporate gifts and employee campaigns,” Parker said.

Board president Henry Adams also noted the number of businesses that consistently have 100 percent employee participation for many years. “For the past several years, every NBC Bank, Peoples Bank and BancorpSouth branch in the county has been 100 percent in their employee giving. We think that is outstanding,” he said.

Plans are currently under way for United Way’s annual awards reception to recognize contributors.

Agencies that receive funding from United Way will also be recognized for their service to their communities. In 2002, the following agencies were funded by United Way of Greater Monroe County: Amory Food Pantry, Alpha House Home for Boys, Amory Meals on Wheels, American Red Cross, Boy Scouts of America, Contact Helpline, Diabetes Treatment Center, F.A.I.T.H. Food Pantry, Gardner Simmons Home for Girls, Lift Inc., Monroe County 4-H, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Recovery House, Regional Rehabilitation Center, Safe Haven, Sally Kate Winters Children’s Home, Salvation Army Mark Mitchell Children’s Shelter and Women First.

United Way volunteers are currently working on this year’s funding distribution plan. Many local agencies have submitted funding requests for 2003-2004. Each year agencies must re-apply for funding. Although the deadline for this year’s grant applications has passed, new agencies are welcome to apply each February after their non-profit status and their compliance with the office of the Secretary of State has been established.

“Fund distribution is the most important part of our year,” Adams said. “This is what the fund-raising is all about.”

Ann Tackett, director of the Lift, Inc./Monroe County Families First Resource Center, said her agency’s mandate is to “strengthen children and families throughout Monroe County.” According to Tackett, United Way funds have played a major role in programs provided by the Resource Center.

Last year another organization, Women First, a cancer support and outreach group, applied for United Way funding. Women First had just organized a chapter in Amory. Its Amory facilitator, Brenda Boozer, said the organization has been able to provide a tremendous amount of support for women with cancer as a result of the funding. “The funds have helped us provide casseroles and meals to women who have had reoccurances of their cancer,” Boozer said. “And it helps us pay for postage to mail cards to them.” Boozer said sometimes Women First also pays for transportation for women to go for chemotherapy treatment. “We also help people pay for mammograms who don’t have insurance,” Boozer said. “We help fund the diagnostic things such as an ultrasound that might not be funded by insurance.”

Boozer said the Women First organization is very thankful for the United Way funding because it’s enabled them to help so many women.

Patti Parker, Executive Director of United Way of Greater Monroe County, contributed to this article.