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United Way begins fund raising for Clayton

By Trina Trice

The United Way kicked off its fundraising campaign for Clayton County this week in hopes of reaching its goal of $415,000.

The goal is substantially less than that of last year, said Helen Sturgeon, associate area director for the United Way office covering Clayton, Henry, and Butts counties.

The organization raised $688,000 last year, but lowered its goal this year because of the closing of the J.C. Penny Distribution Center, which was the largest contributor to the United Way.

Melvin Everson, chairman of this year's campaign, got his start in volunteering for the United Way while working at the distribution center.

"I've been actively involved in Clayton County campaign for over 10 years," he said. "I saw the good it was doing in the community. I was always taught by my mom and dad to contribute to the community. I saw what was being done and got to work."

In Clayton County, there are 26 organizations with a total of 30 programs that receive United Way grants.

Some of the Clayton County programs funded by United Way include Habitat for Humanity, program in which volunteers build homes for needy families; Aging Program and Meals on Wheels; Securus House, a shelter for abused women; Odyssey Family Counseling Center, a substance abuse facility; Clayton County Family Care, a program that provides emergency financial or medical assistance to families in need; Hearts to Nourish Hope elementary after school program; and Sheltering Arms, a facility that provides childcare for families looking for work.

The United Way saw a drop in charitable donations last year, and the organizations it funds have felt the effects.

The economic slowdown felt across the country last year greatly affected Atlanta, said Teri Smith, United Way spokeswoman, which is one reason the United Way came up short in fundraising.

"Atlanta was one of the hardest hit cities after Sept. 11," Smith said. "We were already seeing a decline in the economy here. The hospitality, tourism, and finance industries all suffered after Sept. 11."

David Enniss, executive director of Clayton County Family Care, called the drop in funds a disappointment, but said the organization is trying to cope.

"In the overall scheme of things, we have to consider ourselves fortunate," he said. "And we are trying to find ways to make that up."

Money might be tight for many people, but the United Way hopes to do all it can to help local charitable organizations, Smith said.

Everson says he spends between three to four hours a day trying to get businesses and individuals to donate to the United Way.

"I'm taking advantage of every opportunity I get to talk to different organizations," he said. "I'm on the phone or talking one-on-one with individuals to explain the importance of United Way in the community and share that with them."