The River Region United Way is doing amazing work in our community, but they need help to keep making a difference. When it comes to bettering our area, it’s everybody’s job.
Ask anyone in the River Region, and they’re likely to be familiar with the United Way. They probably have heard of the annual campaign, and they know that the United Way raises money to help people in their community. But there’s a bigger picture, and the River Region United Way (RRUW) is constantly growing and changing to work more effectively. It’s about seeing a need, and making sure others see it, too.
“It’s easy in today’s society to be apathetic about the things we’re oblivious to,” said Jimmy Hill, President and CEO of RRUW. “That’s what we’re doing – looking for the problems and the people who need help, and helping others see these needs. The mission of the United Way is not just our mission, it’s everyone’s mission. It is everybody’s job.”
Of course, one avenue to help is through financial contributions. The RRUW works with more than 40 affiliate agencies to address what Hill describes as the “basic building blocks for good quality of life,” – health, education and financial stability. Donations support programs that provide hot, nutritious meals for senior citizens and counseling for abuse victims, sponsor at-risk youth to participate in after-school programs, or provide shoes and a warm winter coat to those in need.
Additionally, the RRUW is actively involved in hands-on projects in River Region communities, primarily through the annual Day of Action. RRUW staff and community volunteers together assess what is needed and organize to address that need. In 2017, the Day of Action provided 150 volunteers to help 135 children improve reading skills through a summer reading program and provided 1,500 books.
“We’re broader than just fundraisers,” Hill said. “People don’t give to the United Way – They give to help people. We are trying to make that more visible, taking the focus off a dollar number goal and instead, sharing with people stories about how their contributions make a difference in the individual lives of people who are their neighbors.”
In fact, the annual giving campaign no longer has a set financial goal. “We want to raise every dollar we can to impact every life we can. That’s the goal, rather than a certain number,” Hill said.
Anytime is a good time to give to the United Way, said Jimmy Stubbs, President and CEO of River Bank and Trust, who is serving as the 2017 Volunteer Campaign Chair. He has been involved with the United Way since 1986, when he first became a giver after seeing a video about United Way at his job. “A person’s needs are not identified by a particular month or particular day in the month,” Stubbs said. “Most of our affiliates are assisting people 365 days a year. Campaign dollars allow them to help people 365 days a year. Any time is a good time to give.”
The traditional United Way donor was recruited through a workplace giving campaign, like the one Stubbs first saw. Today, the workplace is more fluid. There are more people who work remotely. People are more transient in the workforce, changing jobs more frequently.
The mindset of younger givers also is different. Older people look at it as paying their “civic rent.” They’ve been part of a community for a long time and they want to give back. Younger people look for more immediate results. “They still want to make a difference in their community; the way they go about it is different, but a lot of these problems take a long time. There’s not a quick fix for poverty,” Hill said. Hill says this increases the responsibility of the RRUW to be a good steward of the donations. RRUW staff and community volunteers assess community needs. Volunteers go to the counties, interview agencies and find problems or areas that need help. Then the UW acquires the human and financial resources to address those needs. Next, the agency works to allocate the dollars generated through donations. These funds support 90-plus programs at more than 40 agencies. Finally, there is the accounting. Each program is carefully reviewed for success of efforts.
United Way support and engagement varies from organization or business to business, Stubbs said. “Employers may ask themselves, can I sacrifice my employee’s time as a volunteer? You may not be able to sacrifice those man-hours, but you can give your employees the opportunity to hear the United Way story and then let them decide if they want to contribute some of their money back to United Way,” he said. “From a monetary perspective, no gift is too small,” Stubbs said. “When you contribute dollars back to the United Way, it doesn’t matter if it’s $1 or $1,000, that dollar is going to be used. Beyond that, you look at the 40 agencies. There are literally hundreds of ways to volunteer with them.”
Putting Plans Into Action
Most people are familiar with the fundraising arm of the River Region United Way, but RRUW President and CEO Jimmy Hill says that’s only half the story. A critical part of the United Way’s mission is service in the community through its corps of volunteers. “People understand that we are a fundraiser for many other organizations, but we also do community impact projects, called the Day of Action,” Hill said. “These provide direct service in the community.”
The Day of Action 2017, held in June, involved 150 volunteers who gave 2,336 hours to help 135 children with a summer reading program through the Community School Initiative in partnership with E.T. Davis Elementary School. The goal of the program was to provide children with an opportunity to develop a love of reading, to foster parent-child interaction by encouraging parents to read with their children, and to improve reading retention for K-5 students returning to school after summer break.
Volunteers worked with school staff to provide a variety of children’s activities, including scavenger hunts for library treasures, character parades, games like “Book BINGO,” and storytelling and craft projects. In addition, each child received a backpack containing 10 books of their very own. The project provided 1,500 books to students. An additional 75 backpacks with books were donated to three other United Way agencies serving children.
Donna Cooper, Senior Vice President/Public Funds Manager for BBVA Compass, participated in the Day of Action. She says she was particularly excited about partnering with Davis Elementary, as she was a student there 50 years ago. “Reading is fundamental,” she said. “It opens pathways to opportunity and learning, and inspires. What a great opportunity to partner with these children and keep the pathway open to summer learning. I loved this project!”
GIVEBACK + BRIEFS
A Helping Hand
Women from the Junior League of Montgomery participated in a summer- long community house build with non-profit House to House (H2H), a project that was finished in August. Beginning in June, members of the Junior League of Montgomery spent their Saturdays helping construct a bunkhouse for large church groups that come to Montgomery to work with House to House and Common Ground Montgomery. “Our volunteer time and donations will make it possible for others to give their time and talents to our community,” said Jennifer Rogers, the Chair of the Junior League of Montgomery’s House to House volunteer group. “This is our first year working with the organization, but I hope we have laid the foundation for a long-term relationship.” In addition to the volunteer manpower, the Junior League of Montgomery also awarded House to House a $10,000 grant to fund the construction.
Capitol Hill Healthcare opened its doors this past summer to help children get the school year off to a great start. For the eighth year, the longterm care facility gave away school supplies and treated parents and kids to some family fun. Capitol Hill’s Back to School Bash provided 200 totes filled with age-specific school supplies to the children and grandchildren of employees. The bash featured games, balloon animals, face painting and crafts. “Our employees give so much of themselves to our residents. and we just want to give back to them in a meaningful way whenever we have the opportunity,” said Capitol Hill administrator, Sharon Baker.