With an introduction by Red Cedar Elementary students holding cards that read “Live United,” the United Way of the Lowcountry announced its 2012 fundraising goal of $2.8 million to “Advance the Common Good.”
The event marked the last campaign kickoff for Clarece Walker, CEO of United Way of the Lowcountry. Earlier this year she announced her retirement would be effective in late February, 2013 following 35 years of service.
“It’s bittersweet to stand before you today,” Walker said. “Working with all you wonderful people, we have made good strides to ‘advance the common good by creating opportunities for a better life for all.’
“We have an army of dedicated volunteers who LIVE UNITED, who give, advocate and volunteer with us,” Walker noted. “We have a commitment to ensure funding to help our 44 partner agencies, partners and programs provide services to meet basic needs when they arise and to help our children succeed in school and in life.”
The Pacesetter contributors — 97 organizations and large businesses that conduct their United Way campaigns in mid-summer — already jumpstarted the campaign with $711,210. That’s 25 percent of the campaign goal, Walker announced.
“We have a great start,” she said, “but we have a lot of work to do in the two counties. We don’t have much industry or many large businesses, so we are heavily dependent upon our residents to put us over the top with that $2.8 million.
“Sounds like a lot? You bet it does. But it’s what needs to be done,” she said. “This is a community that has never shied away from a challenge. We’ve done it through hurricanes, through wars and through issues big and small. Now here’s a challenge — help us raise $2.8 million to help here at home.”
United Way of the Lowcountry works with agencies and partnerships in Jasper and Beaufort counties to:
· offer essential services like shelter, food and clothing;
· prepare children and youth to succeed in school;
· promote health, safety and wellness; and
· empower individuals and families toward self-sufficiency.
This year, in addition to providing funding to agencies and partnerships that provide for basic needs, United Way of the Lowcountry is launching an education initiative that has an initial focus on establishing tutoring programs in eight Lowcountry elementary schools.
The aim: Ensure that 80 percent or more fourth graders are reading on grade level in all elementary schools by recruiting 600 tutoring volunteers, supporting the ultimate goal of reducing the high school dropout rate by half within 10 years.
“Already, more than 200 tutors are signed up and will soon begin training,” Walker said. “That’s one way we are connecting with our mission to ‘Give. Advocate. Volunteer.'”
Peter Post, chairman of the annual fundraising campaign, thanked Walker for her tenure at United Way.
“During the past 18 years your passion, your commitment and your optimism have kept us motivated to reach for the best that’s in all of us,” he said.
Post noted the reasons he works with United Way.
“Almost half the children in Beaufort County schools and three quarters of children in Jasper schools qualify for free or reduced-price lunches,” he said. “At least a third of the adults who live or work here function at the lowest literacy levels. About one-fourth of our children under the age of five live in poverty.
“Most importantly, I do what I do for United Way because it is the local organization that recruits people and organizations from all across the community who bring the passion, expertise and resources needed to get things done. That’s why we’re all here today,” Post said.
“At United Way of the Lowcountry we are working on the short term with a commitment to the long term impact. We are here today to invite you to join us to ensure that the building blocks of a vital community – basic needs, education, health and financial stability – are strong. We want everyone to be part of positive impact in our community,” said Sandra Chavez, chairwoman of the United Way of the Lowcountry Board of Directors.