Big Bend Scores a Big Win for United Way


Big Bend Scores a Big Win for United Way

This week, our United Way concluded a nearly year-long effort to generate the significant charitable donations necessary to fund a huge level of service in the year ahead to people most in need in this wonderful eight-county region. The very good news is that, through the Herculean efforts of thousands of people, this Big Bend community scored a big win.

Total fundraising for the United Way exceeded our ambitious goal of $4.66 million by a margin that rendered many on our fundraising team breathless. That is an outstanding reflection of how important United Way is to all of us in covering so much ground.

No one needs to be reminded that, while there are strong and encouraging signs about a recovering local, state and national economy, we’re all still feeling the deep pinch of the longest fiscal downturn of our lifetimes. That’s why it’s even more impressive what this community has achieved in coming together in support of the United Way.

I have long believed that caring hearts and charitable giving are best measured not in good times, but rather in tough times. And in this great community — especially in a still-difficult economic time — a meaningful commitment to the United Way of the Big Bend is the most important measure of caring and giving by any individual, family, business or nonprofit organization.

Last August, we launched the “Elect United” fundraising effort in an exciting faux political campaign to get the community’s attention. We introduced edgy TV commercials featuring our powerful adversary, “Apathy,” personified by good friend Troy Kinsey, a decorated TV newsman whose good heart is matched by his acting talent.

Lest anyone doubt why this is the best place to call “home” in Florida, we found a new, enthusiastic level of personal engagement in United Way among our good neighbors — from schoolchildren and their families to local businesses and their employees to our dedicated base of state workers. Those employment and population segments made up our formula for victory — leading Apathy to concede defeat this week.

The intelligence, generosity and concern that are the dominant DNA of our community helped us to clear every obstacle and break through our goal in a heartwarming display of unity of purpose. So, on behalf of our United Way, “Thank You” to every one of you who contributed anything from a dollar or a selfless day of service all the way up to a year-long pledge of payroll deduction to help our neighbors most in need.

Now, dozens of local volunteers will donate their time to the important work of determining how best to invest that $4.66 million into the service channels to effectively solve chronic problems.

Whether it’s feeding hungry people or helping to boost the reading skills of our children from pre-K through third grade, UW grants are carefully vetted to make sure our investments are helping people, not paying administrative costs.

Heather Mitchell, president of the United Way of the Big Bend, and her dedicated staff are to be appreciated for defining awesomeness in the nonstop intensity and goodness that they bring to this important work every day. So, too, do we all need to salute our volunteer army whose “soldiers of charity” juggled their own jobs and lives even as they reached out to the rest of us to get involved in the campaign.

United Way of the Big Bend remains the single most important asset we share to address the significant problems of people in need across this region. As we celebrate this important victory for the people, the work already has begun to plan the launch and great prospects for our United Way’s 2013 campaign, to be chaired by Capital Health Plan CEO John Hogan. Under John’s leadership, we know know that our never-complacent United Way team will make that campaign even better than the one we’ve just completed.

We can count on this community to continue to embrace our individual and collective power to make positive change through our targeted support of the most relevant charitable organization in my experience. For my money — and yours — United Way of the Big Bend is the smartest, strongest and most strategic investment that we can make, alone and together. The key to its success is not in what it costs us, but indeed in what it saves us: people, and our future.

[Originally published in the Tallahassee Democrat, March 13, 2013]