By Cody Neff
The United Way of Southern West Virginia has probably helped someone you know. By covering everything from education to employment, the group touches lives all across the region.
Thursday, officials announced that the $525,000 fundraising campaign goal had been met and thanked everyone who contributed.
“I just want to thank our generous and wonderful community that we live in for their participation in the United Way, and not only in the United Way,” Chairman Frank Wood said. “If you just think about all of the organizations that donate money to help the need of our communities, it’s in the millions of dollars.
“When we set the goal last year of $525,000, everyone was thinking, ‘Wow. That’s big. That’s over a half-a-million dollars.’ We’re going to close in on a million not too long from now. We set that goal last year. I was convinced that we would hit it and exceed it. We did, to the tune of $600,000, if not over it.”
Wood, publisher of Beckley Newspapers, said he knew they would meet the goal after “Dancing with the Stars” went so well.
“I don’t know how you get any better, but I’m sure Margaret (O’Neal) and the team here at the United Way will work on that,” he said. “I’ve got to thank Margaret, Anna (Lester), and Teresa (Kelly). This is a three-person show and no one works any harder in any organization that I’ve ever been around.
“They keep you on your toes. They’re calling every day. They’re keeping everything flowing and they’re out working. I don’t know if they know what a 40-hour work week is.”
Wood said he knew what he was going to focus on as soon as he became the chair.
“I read a sentence in one of the brochures that says ‘working every day in our communities to address the needs that affect us the most: education, health, and income.’
“That became my focus throughout the campaign, to keep in the forefront in what we were doing, and why we were doing it.”
For the next United Way campaign, goals will have to get bigger because the coverage area has gotten bigger, too.
“We’re adding Mercer and McDowell and Bluefield, Va., as well,” Wood said. “That’s due to the United Way taking those counties due to some problems that they’ve had in the United Way in that area.
“Of course, the goal will be increased from what it would have been if we hadn’t picked up two more counties. I don’t know what amount because I’m not sure what those counties have raised in the past.”
As Wood steps down as chair for the United Way, he says the group will be left in Sherrie Hunter’s capable hands.
“As the campaign chair coming up, my heart-rate is a little higher,” Hunter said. “I’m anxious to have other initiatives and other fundraising options that will help us help those people in Mercer and McDowell. I think the community here will rise to the occasion.
“It’s going to be challenging, but I will tell you that southern West Virginia is very special. Even people who have needs and challenges of their own, everybody steps up to the plate. When they know that the agency has been determined to have everything in place, people know that their money is going to help those less fortunate than themselves.”
Hunter, education director for the Raleigh County Solid Waste Authority, said she knows the people of the state completely embrace the United Way.
“You might be thinking that southern West Virginia is kind of cool,” she said. “We are cool. We’ve got all of those people that decide ‘I’m not going to wear dress-slacks to work. I’m going to wear denim (for ‘Denim for a Difference’) because denim is going to impact those that are kind of in a pickle in their lives.
“They say, ‘I’m going to raise my picture on a stick at ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and vote for Donna Williams. I’m going to go to ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and I’m going to support Margaret O’Neal, the most dynamic executive director in the whole United Way chain.’ ”
Hunter said the success of this year’s campaign is because everyone worked together and worked hard.
“We have the most aggressive, unbelievable Chamber of Commerce in southern West Virginia and they promote us,” she said. “We’ve got water-cooler talk. People were saying, ‘Hey, are you going to wear your denim tomorrow? Wear your denim!’ We’re raising tens of thousands of dollars because of people wanting to wear their denim to work.
“People want to go to Celebrity Night and they want to see Joe Guffy from the chamber wait on a table. They give Joe a lofty tip, but that tip goes to United Way, not Joe Guffy.”
As soon as the 2014-2015 campaign starts, Hunter takes over and she says she’s excited already.
“I’m looking forward to new initiatives, new fundraising campaigns and new challenges,” she said. “There are going to be certain new challenges with the inclusion of McDowell and Mercer County, but it’s going to be exciting meeting those people in those two counties and knowing that we’re going to be working for the good of those people.”
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