Area United Way campaign wrapping up

By Clay Wilson

Many charities focus their energy on just one part of life.

Some work to prevent birth defects. Some work to make the last days of the dying comfortable. Some charities help children, some help teens, some help adults.

But according to Debra Freeman, United Way covers all the bases.

"I personally believe that, as charities go, United Way is one of the most worthwhile," Freeman said. "When you give to the United Way, you are impacting so many people. They literally are reaching out to people from the cradle to the grave."

For the past two months, Freeman, a Riverdale resident, has been working on the annual fund-raising campaign of the United Way of Clayton, Henry and Butts counties.

She is a "loaned executive," one of four campaign workers whose companies (in Freeman's case, AGL Resources of Atlanta) send them to work for the local United Way office during the annual drive.

The local office is about to wrap up this year's campaign. According to Helen Sturgeon, the area's associate director for campaign and marketing, the Atlanta central office of United Way will "call" the campaign on Dec. 4.

However, she said, donations and pledges will continue to trickle in until after the first of the year.

The local office has set a campaign goal this year of $750,000.

"Right now our projection looks like we're tracking real close to our goal," Sturgeon said. "Slightly below – but we're not really surprised by that."

Sturgeon said before the campaign began on Sept. 2 that she expected this year's collections would be down from last year's $1 million due to the sluggish economy. That sluggishness, she said, is also causing some of the organization's regular donors to turn in their contribution amounts late.

"We're kind of between a rock and a hard place on some of these things," Sturgeon said, "because we know they've done a campaign and we know they've done well, but we don't have the numbers."

Still, she expressed optimism that the results of the campaign will be quite satisfactory.

The money that the United Way collects will be used to help fund around 23 non-profit community organizations in Clayton County, 17 in Henry and 14 in Butts.

Among those organizations is Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity, which builds houses for qualified residents of Clayton, Henry and Fayette counties and lets the residents pay for them with no-interest loans.

According to SCHH Executive Director Brenda Rayburn, the United Way provides valuable support to Habitat's mission. Although UW provided only about $12,000 of the local Habitat's $750,000 budget this year, Rayburn pointed out that the money supported Habitat's homeowner education program.

Rayburn said the program is a vital part of Habitat's goal of building strong communities, and that the money from the United Way makes it possible.

"That sounds like a small amount, (but) it's an important amount," she said.

She also noted that many of Habitat's clients can take advantage of the other programs supported by United Way.

"I would say they are a valuable partner – in building strong communities," she said.

Kim Siebert, Clayton county coordinator for the University of Georgia's Cooperative Extension Service, also said United Way funds provide a crucial boost.

The Clayton Extension Office runs the "ABCs of Parenting" program, which offers parenting classes and home-visit parenting services to qualified new parents. The $15,000 the United Way chipped in last year paid for group sessions for the 15-20 girls who meet each Thursday for the classes.

" – (United Way is) a steady source of support, which is very important when you're trying to bring about behavior change," Siebert said.

"Without that group piece that United Way (funds), the program wouldn't be complete."