United Way dollars help meet needs of hurting families

By Rozella Hardin
STAR Staff
rhardin@starhq.com

   At times, there are hardships that are difficult to overcome without a little help.
   Brenda Johnson, who works at the Neighborhood Service Center in Elizabethton, was recently faced with trying to find help for a family who lost their home and belongings due to fire.
   "They needed money to make both rent and electrical deposits. We are not allowed to use state funds for this purpose, but with the allocations we get from United Way, we can do that if we have available monies," Johnson said.
   The Neighborhood Service Center is one of eight agencies aided by funding from the United Way of Elizabethton/Carter County. Because this year's goal of $190,000 has gone unmet, United Way agency allocations for January and February had to be cut by 30 percent.
   "Unless the funds come in, we will have to continue the cuts," said Brenda Wallace, United Way Executive Director, who noted that the goal is still short by more than 30 percent.
   "There are so many people who fall through the cracks because they don't qualify for the services we offer. Our agency is limited in what it can do with state funds, and that is where the United Way comes in. With the funds we receive from United Way, we can help people with needs who do not qualify under the state program," Johnson said.
   The Neighborhood Service Center also assists individuals with water deposits, income management, employment counseling, and assistance with medicine. This past year, the center, with United Way monies, provided shelter for 32 persons, paid utilities for 76 families and performed a host of other referrals.
   Assistance and Resource Ministries (ARM) is another agency that relies on United Way funds. ARM helps people with electrical and water deposits as well as rent deposits. The agency also operates a food pantry and clothing ministry.
   In addition to these services, ARM provides household items to victims of house fires and to women who leave domestic violence shelters. The agency relies wholly on the generosity of the public for its operation. Allocations from United Way are an important part of its annual budget.
   Last year, ARM served 1,226 families for a combined total of 2,847 persons in the Elizabethton community who needed clothing, food, shelter, and help with utilities.
   Another service agency helped by United Way is the local chapter of the American Red Cross, which, since re-opening its office, has assisted 12 families that have been victims of house fires.
   The local chapter of the Red Cross is dependent on the United Way at the present time to continue its services.
   Each day there are new clients and new needs which agencies like the Neighborhood Service Center, ARM, and Red Cross seek to help with a meager amount of funds -- funds that have already been stretched.
   "We have stretched the funds we receive to give to the agencies we serve, and they, in turn, stretch them to help as many people and meet as many needs as they can," said Wallace, who noted the United Way dollar goes a long way in Elizabethton and Carter County.
   It's a dollar that helps feed people, clothe them, shelter them, often provides needed medicine for them, and, on cold days, also provides warmth. "Often times they have no one or no where to turn to for help except these places," Wallace said.
   Another of the eight agencies that is struggling because of United Way allocations cuts is the Elizabethton Senior Center. "We are already experiencing cuts from other sources, and this is very unsettling for us," said Ruth Goodwin, director of the center. "The United Way check comes the first of each month without fail, and we know that we can count on that money to pay utilities and keep open if nothing else. Incredible as it seems, we operate that closely to our budget. There is nowhere to get other money nor any other accounts to fall back on," Goodwin said.
   The Senior Center served 660 persons last year. The center provides meals to those who attend as well as homebound meals. Transportation is also provided for seniors for shopping, doctor's appointments, etc.
   The Community Day Care Center and the Boys and Girls Club of Carter County also rely on United Way dollars to provide services to the children and youth they serve.
   "While other United Way agencies in the area are meeting their goals and in some cases exceeding them, we struggle to meet our goal, which is the lowest in the Tri-Cities area," said Wallace.
   In many ways, the Elizabethton community is more dependent on United Way dollars than other communities. "We have so many needy in our community who have nowhere to go. The economy has hit hard in our community. We have people who are without jobs, without homes, without food, and this is where the United Way, with its dollars, tries to help," said Wallace.
   The United Way is dependent on the community to provide these much needed funds. "Because the needs in our community are so great, the need for United Way funding is even greater," said Johnson of the Neighborhood Service Center. "It's our neighbors, our friends and our families that United Way dollars help," she said.
   The United Way is making a concerted push to meet its goal during the next few weeks. "We've lost so much funding because of job losses. There's no way we can make up the funding losses that have come from plant closings. In just the past few years, we have lost NAR (North American Rayon), Elizabethton Undergarment, and, more recently, Jarl Extrusions. This has been a big blow to our fund-raising efforts," Wallace said.
   The agency is now appealing to individuals to help. "If every person in this county just gave one dollar, that would put us over the top," Wallace said.
   Persons who would like to donate to the United Way may send their check to the United Way of Elizabethton/Carter County, P.O. Box 1715, Elizabethton, TN 37643. All donations are tax deductible.