The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 3, 2012

It's about more than agency work

United Way column

By Richard Jarrell
guest columnist

BECKLEY — For several weeks now I have talked with you about all the great work that our 32 agencies do, everything from agencies like Just for Kids to Beckley and Summers County Health Right. But the thing that many people don’t realize is all the work that is done outside the work with agency partners.

The thing that always impresses me is how the United Way works very hard to ensure the basic essentials of life are being met. For instance, when the counselors of elementary schools talked about children who come to school with inadequate footwear, a fund was established in partnership with the Beckley Area Foundation to provide kindergarten and first-grade children one pair of shoes per calendar year. This fund is called the Equal Footing Shoe Fund and is done in a very confidential manner to ensure these little children have shoes that fit and are adequate for the challenges of weather.

After-school programs are not something that immediately comes to your mind about the United Way, but it is what’s being done. Recently, at-risk schools were identified for their potential to have increased dropouts and it was United Ways across the state that were asked to come in and help fill the gaps that exist in working with these children to understand the challenges that will face them if they do indeed drop out of school.

Pillows and blankets might be something that many of us take for granted. We know we have stacks of blankets in our closets, but for some of the children in our schools across the five counties we serve that is not the case. They come to school with stories of not having a bed to sleep in or a pillow to lay their head on. Do you know that just in Raleigh County alone we have around 100 children who are considered homeless? As Margaret Ann O’Neal says, “Toys are good, but a toy doesn’t matter, if you don’t know where you’re going to sleep”!

Teen pregnancy is something many of us know exists, but do we know just how big of an issue it is? We have girls who are pregnant in middle schools! When Margaret Ann was talking with one young 13-year-old girl, she asked her, “How did this happen?” The young girl’s response was, “No one told me not to have sex.” This sounds pretty basic, but the fact is, it is reality.

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Before I finish, I want to give everyone the wrap-up on the Fourth Annual Wonderland of Trees. This year’s event raised just over $35,000! WOW! Fifty-four trees were auctioned with 15 of those donated to needy families and organizations within our communities.

Thanks again to all the businesses, organizations, churches and schools that sponsored the trees; we couldn’t have done it without you.

Also, thanks to Lewis Automotive, who were such great hosts of this year’s event. The People’s Choice award went to the Raleigh County Girl Scouts, and the tree that brought the most money at auction was the Senior Friends from Raleigh General Hospital tree.

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This year’s campaign is coming to a close, and presently we are at 60 percent of our $500,000 goal. While 60 percent sounds pretty good, that means we still need to raise $200,000 to meet the needs of our five counties. Please look into your heart and see if there is any way you can make any type of donation to help the work of the United Way. I think I’ve made a strong case for the need.

As always I encourage you to Live and Give United!

— United Way of Southern West Virginia 2012-2013 Campaign chair Richard Jarrell owns the two Chick-fil-A franchises in Beckley and is a member of the Raleigh County Board of Education.