United Way looks for means to boost struggling campaign

By Rozella Hardin
STAR STAFF
rhardin@starhq.com

   The Carter County United Way is looking for answers to why its campaign continues to struggle, as well as ways to make the community more aware of the role it plays in providing financial support to vital agencies.
   To date, the local United Way has received only $124,238.45 in pledges and monies -- 65 percent of its 2003 goal of $190,000.
   "A lot of this amount has come in, but I am afraid a lot won't come in," said Brenda Wallace, United Way Executive Director. Board members at Monday's meeting voted to cut allocations for February by 30 percent, the second month that allocations have been cut.
   "We are looking at 30 percent cuts for the whole year unless our budget is met. Right now we are only at 65 percent in pledges and donations," Wallace said.
   The financial report showed $31,228.67 in the 2003 campaign account.
   One member of the board noted, "We are the only county in this area that struggles to meet our goal. What are we doing wrong?"
   The United Way office also reported that it had received a letter from the Elizabethton Electric System, which in effect said, "if our contributions do not increase next year, we are going to suspend our United Way campaign ... Most employees prefer to make private contributions to agencies or churches which they wish to help."
   The letter, signed by marketing agent Brent Dugger, noted that only four employees gave to the United Way this year for a total of $380.75.
   Wallace explained that the Neighborhood Service Center and ARM -- both agencies of the United Way -- each year send checks to the Elizabethton Electric System in payments for persons who need help with their electrical bills.
   "Some of this is United Way money," Wallace said. "They are one of the best-paying and biggest employers in our area, and we need to try to get a better effort from them," she added.
   "Does the community know what would happen in Carter County if it were not for the United Way? Do they realize that some of these agencies would actually have to close their doors if it were not for the United Way?" asked Monica Feathers, a board member from Inland Container.
   The board discussed various methods that could be utilized to inform the community of all of the important services provided by agencies funded by United Way.
   "It's not about United Way. It's about the agencies who receive much of their funding from the United Way. It's about the children at the Day Care, which the state sends there. Children who get two meals a day; who are checked for bruises and other signs of abuse and neglect. It's about the person who goes to ARM for food and clothing after suffering a financial hardship because of illness," said Tina Garrison, United Way office secretary.
   "We need, in a constructive way, to let the businesses in our community know what their individual contributions do," Feathers said.
   Wallace explained that a number of the United Way agencies are already seeing an increase in requests for assistance because of the cold weather and consequently higher heating bills.
   Board members agreed that a more concerted effort needs to be made within the next few weeks to bring more businesses into the United Way network, and to improve the campaign for individual contributions.
   In other action, the board welcomed Judy Jones as a new member of the board, and approved Kelly Geagley as a member.
   The board will meet again Feb. 17 at noon at the United Way offices on Elk Avenue.