United Way campaign kicks off; sets goal at $4.15M

With the struggling economy, United Way of Central Georgia was one of the few United Ways nationally that avoided cutbacks in funding to its partner agencies.

And not only did it maintain funding, but it also gave double-digit increases.

Thursday, the United Way kicked off its annual fundraising campaign with a football tailgate party-themed reception at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, where officials announced a lofty goal of $4.15 million.

Campaign chairman George McCanless told the gathering of corporate CEOs, representatives from partner agencies and volunteers that this year’s campaign is not “business as usual.”

“It is a call to action for people in our community who care about changing lives and improving community conditions, and who understand what is at stake should our community’s network of nonprofit services be severely diminished,” McCanless said.

The goal is $30,000 more than last year’s, but that campaign ended up generating almost $4.3 million after a $150,000 grant from the Peyton Anderson Foundation.

United Way officials also dipped into reserves to help its 34 partner agencies meet growing needs due to the harsh economy, distributing more than $3 million.

“We’ve been building up reserves for a rainy day, and clearly the rain is falling,” United Way of Central Georgia CEO Ron Watson said at the reception.

“We’re asking the people who work and make a living to reach out and help those who have more acute needs than ever.”

Last year’s largest corporate giver, Geico, donated $850,000.

“They’re gearing up to do even better this year,” Watson said.

McCanless, who is president and publisher of The Telegraph, will head a team of volunteers charged with raising funds to help the organization reach an estimated 100,000 people in 14 counties.

“I was brought up to understand that it was the responsibility of those who have something to help those who don’t have. What I like about the United Way is it touches so many different agencies,” he said before Thursday’s event.

Those agencies include a provider of hospice care, a service McCanless learned to appreciate when his mother died of cancer.

“I had no comprehension of hospice until that happened. The last two months of her life I developed an appreciation for hospice,” he said.

“The odds are that every one of us is going to need help from one of those agencies at some time or another. If we want to build a strong community, then we need to make sure we’re taking care of those who need help right now and help them get back on their feet.”

At the kickoff, McCanless, an avid golfer, plugged a couple of fundraisers: next week’s United Way Corporate Challenge golf tournament at The Brickyard and the annual car raffle, which this year will be a 2011 Honda Accord from Walsh Honda.

The event wound down with a video that featured what McCanless called the “incredible success story” of Virgenal McMichael.

McMichael, who will attend Mercer University on a presidential scholarship, grew up in a single-parent home, and both he and his mother credit the positive influence of the Carl Thomas Boys and Girls Club, a United Way partner.

“When you see a real individual who’s been impacted by United Way, it really brings home what we’re doing out there,” McCanless said.

For more information about the United Way of Central Georgia and its annual campaign, visit www.uni