United Way continues giving back

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 14, 2005

Last year, Jonathon Simpson ran the 100-yard dash with the enthusiasm of an Olympic sprinter, coming in second place.

What is amazing about this simple achievement is that Simpson has cerebral palsy.

Simpson was competing in Special Olympics, which he has done as long as he has been in school.

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"It makes him feel special because he can't speak too well and he can't run too far," Joyce Swann, Simpson's grandmother, said.

Special Olympics is one of seven agencies United Way of the River Cities helps to fund in Lawrence County. The organization also reaches out to Cabell, Wayne, Lincoln and Mason counties in West Virginia through a multitude of agencies.

"What Matters"

The organization was started by local residents in 1922 with a desire to raise funds for human services.

"We strive to make a lasting fix on a community rather than put a Band-Aid on it," said Cassey Bowden, research development and marketing director with United Way of the River Cities. "We don't want a temporary fix."

Each year, United Way kicks off an official campaign to get the donations rolling. This year's campaign is, "What Matters." It officially begins with "A Day of Caring" at 9 a.m. Aug. 10 in the courtyard at Pullman Square in Huntington, W.Va., to clean graffiti in the city.

Bowden said United Way is still looking to identify a project in Lawrence County to begin the campaign here.

This year, United Way of the River Cities has a $1.3 million goal.

"We're not asking people to give their hard-earned money," Bowden said. "We're just asking them to make a (small) pledge."

With the campaign, volunteers are trying to educate people about the needs around them in the community instead of only asking for pledges.

"It's making people aware of how many hungry and homeless and people who can't read that are in the area," Bowden said."We're trying to let people know we make changes, but there are always things that need to be done."

Stretching a dollar

"We ask people to give to United Way because we can really stretch a dollar," Bowden said.

She said more than $90,000 came back to Lawrence County last year, helping fund the Boy Scouts' Simon Kenton Council, the Chesapeake Community Center, the Girl Scout Wilderness Road, Special Olympics, the United Health Foundation, the Well Child Clinic and the City Welfare Mission.

United Way raises funds all year long, but it mostly does employer campaigns where volunteers will go and speak at companies.

"We show people how important it is to support their community," Bowden said. "We will show people how far a dollar will stretch."

For example, $1.50 will provide a person with a meal at the Ironton city mission and 18 cents will purchase a pound of food.

United Way provides the city mission with 20 percent of its budget each year, which goes towards purchasing food and clothes.

"It's been a big help in the food so we can assist families in need and individuals," mission Pastor Jim Cremeans said. "It's good because you know it's coming every month, there is a steady income."

Last year, the city mission served 14,000 meals, aided 12,968 people and sheltered 597 homeless.

The Special Olympics program receives 96 percent of its budget from United Way.

"With out United Way, there'd be no Special Olympics," Swann said.

Special Olympics organizes different athletic events for disabled children.

"Special Olympics is great because (Jonathon Simpson) can compete with kids on his level," Swann said. "They all stand the same chance of winning."

"Special Olympics helps all the little crippled kids," 14-year-old Simpson said. "With out it, we wouldn't get to do this."

Another agency United Way helps is the Well Child Center's at the Ironton City Health Department. The organization provides 77 percent of the clinic's budget. That money goes to purchasing diapers, baby formula, vitamins and some prescriptions to meet the needs of children.

"They're just a Godsend to people," said Jane Alley, executive director of United Way for the Well Child Clinic at the Ironton City Health Department. "You wouldn't believe how grateful people are."

The people she speaks of are women who go to the Well Child Clinic and have no means to take care of their children or infants. With the help of the United Way, the clinic is able to get those women on their feet.

"Some girls don't have anything when they get out of the hospital," Alley said. "We try to help them once, then show them how to help themselves."

United Way keeps campaigning to raise money so these agencies can continue to run.

"Without funding and help from the community, none of these agencies could do those services," Bowden said.

Programs and volunteers

United Way also devises programs to disperse into communities.

This year's program is the "Success by 6" program. It is an outreach program designed to inform new or expecting parents about early brain development.

"It let's people know how babies are born learning and continue critical brain development up to the age of six, preparing them for school," Bowden said.

The Welfare-to-Work program helps prepare welfare recipients for employment then gets them into the workforce.

"We give vision and dental exams and job readiness training to promote the transition to help people in the welfare system to the workforce system," Bowden said.

She said it was so successful last year, West Virginia adopted the program for state use.

The Earned Income Tax Credit Program also began last year to help get people more money back on their federal taxes.

Bowden said the volunteers gave up five or six Saturdays in a row to file taxes for people to "put money back in their pockets."

"Hopefully they will take the money, put it in a savings account and it can be a down payment on a home, for many it would be their first home," she said.

Primarily volunteers run the programs and fundraising efforts, Bowden said.

"We're always in need of volunteers," she said.

For more information about volunteering, donating or United Way of the River Cities visit www.unitedwayrivercities.org or call (304) 523-8929.