United Way returns with revamped campaign

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By Shaina Stockton, Staff

Rather than raising money to meet a specific monetary goal, the organization is trying to recruit more donors from the community to help as many people as it possibly can.

This month kicks off campaign season for United Way, and Twin County United Way’s recent merger with United Way Virginia Highlands promises to steer the local organization in a brand new direction.
From now until October, United Way will be busy paying visits to local businesses with the goal of educating employees about the organization’s main purpose.
Since the merger, the Twin County branch has been busy transitioning towards the new model that follows United Way worldwide, according to resource development manager Chris Brown. The new model will concentrate on three main categories of community impact: income, health and education.
When asked about this year’s goal for the campaign, Brown said that there wasn’t a real number in mind, unlike in previous years. “You will no longer see a thermometer sitting out in the community, showing that we’ve raised this or that. Our goal now is to see how many people’s lives we can change through our efforts,” he said.
Brown said one measurable goal is increasing the number of United Way donors by 10 to 15 percent.
UWVH held a campaign kickoff event at the Washington County fairgrounds in June. Due to the major changes for the Twin County branch of UWVH, Brown didn’t see the possibility of a local kickoff event this year.
“With me being in the office for a little over a month, we haven’t had a kickoff event, and probably won’t because we are running short on time,” he said in July. “Right now, we are finishing putting together our campaign cabinet.”
He went on to explain that representatives from the community — such as volunteers, doctors, business owners, lawyers and retired teachers — make up the cabinet to help promote United Way’s campaign.
Brown confirmed that Twin County Regional Hospital CEO Jon Applebaum has agreed to serve as chair for the campaign this year.
One of the first things on the agenda for United Way this year is to address the questions and concerns that have been voiced by the community. “The main thing that we want to tell them is, for those who are looking to invest in United Way, any money that is invested here will stay in the Twin County area,” Brown said.
Administrative costs are another concern that Brown has heard from the public. “One of the things that is beneficial about merging with them, is that we are able to keep our administrative costs down low,” he said, adding that their current administrative rates are around 12 percent. This is an impressive number when comparing it to the national Better Business Bureau’s recommendation that these costs should never exceed 30 percent for a non-profit. As part of the re-organization, a remodeling of United Way’s local building is also in the works.
Brown explained some of the projects that are currently underway in each category:

“In this area, we see a lot of illiteracy, drop-outs and people who don’t have a high school diploma,” Brown said.
Going back even further, Brown has also seen the trend of pre-K and kindergarten-aged children not being prepared to take on the required curriculums.
“Studies show that if two- to four-year-olds are more prepared going into pre-K, they will do better in school when they are older,” Brown said.
Through a program called Smart Beginnings, United Way is assisting local daycare centers, Head Start and even private daycare providers to help prepare younger children for school. One goal of the program is to also educate parents in what they can do to teach their children the essential subjects.
“We are also looking to work with youth already in the school system to give them the tools they need to better succeed in school,” Brown said.
Education is not limited to school children; United Way also seeks to educate people out in the workforce, to help improve their ability to do their jobs more efficiently. “If we can improve the education skills of their employees, it will benefit them, who they are employed with, and future employees,” Brown said.

“We focus on their basic needs,” Brown said, such as managing bank accounts, budgeting and paying bills. “The biggest thing I come across here is the number of calls from people needing assistance with electricity, who are getting disconnect notices,” he added.
Brown made it clear that the program is not designed just to get people out of financial jams. Utilizing partner agencies such as H.O.P.E. (Helping to Overcome Poverty Existence) Inc., these programs are designed to teach the community how to keep themselves above water. “We want to empower these people so that [billing problems] don’t happen again,” he said.
Brown also brought up a community issue that often gets overlooked: homelessness. “Homelessness is higher in this area than people think it is,” he said. Averaging numbers from the Galax Hope House, local churches, the DSS and law enforcement encounters, Brown estimated the homeless population to be around 100 or 200 in the Twin County area.

An issue that impacts several other projects under United Way, the health aspect focuses on problems like community hunger.
United Way supports Backpack Buddies, a program that provides eligible children with backpacks full of food to take home every weekend during the school year. “When you’re hungry, you don’t study as well, and you don’t have the desire to work,” he said.
Similarly, hunger or health issues that effect one family member may soon effect everyone. “If you have a father who is dealing with health issues, and he’s the main money winner in the family, that affects the whole family,” he said. “It’s not a short-term goal, but [taking care of these issues] is an important investment if we want to see change. “

The United Way office in Galax is located at 121 West Grayson Street. For more information about UWVH, visit uwvh.org.