Former teacher spreads word for United Way

By Clay Wilson

Helen Sturgeon says she likes a challenge.

Getting people to donate part of their incomes to charity in uncertain economic times probably qualifies. But Sturgeon doesn't seem intimidated by the task n instead, she said she's looking forward to it.

"It's the part of my job that I really, really liked ? so I was glad to focus just on (the) campaign," she said.

In early July, Sturgeon announced her intention to take the position of associate area director for campaign and marketing with the United Way of Clayton, Henry and Butts counties. As such, she will oversee the organization's fund-raising campaign, which begins Sept. 2.

Last year the campaign brought in $1 million n money that will be used to help the 17 non-profit programs the United Way helps in Henry County, the 23 in Clayton and the 14 in Butts.

Sturgeon hopes the campaign will raise at least $750,000 this year.

The fund-raising goal is down from last year because the recently shutdown JC Penny Distribution Center had contributed about $275,000 toward the goal.

"We're going to be hurting bad with that one," Sturgeon said.

Nevertheless, she's already thinking about ways to get people to give n both regular donors and new ones.

"A lot of it is simply educating people," she said, "and that's an advantage of the background I bring to the job n education."

With an education degree in Home Economics, Sturgeon, 52, spent more than a dozen years as a county extension agent in Florida and later in Georgia. In the mid-1990s she served in that capacity in Clayton County for five years.

Ironically, she was able to parlay that experience into an opening for fundraising when she realized that she had chaperoned the children of Clayton County Commission Chairman Crandle Bray to 4-H camp. At a recent meeting with county officials, she introduced herself to Bray and reminded him of their prior acquaintance.

"I never miss an opportunity to shake a hand," she said.

After working two years as a Home Economics teacher at Stockbridge High School, Sturgeon got involved with the United Way in her home county of Rockdale. She became a "loaned executive" for the UW's fund-raising campaign through her work with the American Cancer Society.

She would go on to become area director of the United Way of Rockdale County.

There, according to Russ Moore, who sits on the board of directors of the Rockdale United Way and the UW of Metro Atlanta, Sturgeon "moved (the program) up several notches.

"She has proven herself to be a very valuable asset to any community," Moore said. " ? We're going to dearly miss her."

Rockdale may miss Sturgeon, but Linda Smith, area director of the United Way of Clayton, Henry and Butts counties, said Sturgeon's move is a gain for this area.

"I have the utmost confidence that Helen will be extremely successful in raising dollars for us in all three of the counties ?," Smith said.

Sturgeon plans to continue living in Rockdale County, close to its border with Henry, with her husband, Bill. However, her son, Brian Turk, lives with his family in McDonough. Her daughter, Kelley Turk, is in school.

Sturgeon said she fully expects to get back into the flow of life in the Southern Crescent as she gears up for the fund-raising campaign.

"Give me a few months and I'll ? become reacquainted with people in the community," she said. "And hopefully that will be good for our giving."