Jason Connally, a client advisor at Columbus Bank & Trust, stepped out of his comfort zone Monday and traveled the road of despair.
Visiting United Way agencies, he learned about some of the most disadvantaged residents in the Chattahoochee Valley -- the hungry, the homeless and the sexually abused.
"It's tough hearing the stories," he said. "But it's great that they have some place to go."
Connally took the bus tour as part of a three-day training program for United Way loaned executives, who will raise about 70 percent of the funds for the annual campaign. On Monday, the group consisted of 21 executives from 17 local companies. They visited five agencies, and will tour another eight today.
The agencies visited Monday included the Russell County Child Advocacy Center, Homeless Resource Network, Salvation Army, Stewart Community Home and Feeding the Valley-Kid's Cafe.
United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley will kick off its 2013 campaign at 11:30 a.m. Aug. 29, at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center. This year's theme is "Hunting for the Goal." Chairing the campaign is Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor. Tickets are $25 per person and $200 per table.
The United Way raised
$6.9 million in 2012, but the goal for this year won't be announced until next week's kickoff, said Becky Fletcher, vice president of resource development.
Fletcher said the United Way relies on loaned executives as a way to reduce overhead. She said the organization only has four employees in the campaign department, which overseas fundraising activities at 130 companies. She said corporations once sponsored employees to work for the entire United Way campaign. But the program changed in recent years because some companies couldn't afford to loan employees for that length of time. Now, loaned executives volunteer on a part-time basis.
Each loaned executive is given accounts and is responsible for helping companies raise funds.
"We try to work with them based on what they're able to give," Fletcher said.
Jackie Barnes, a supervisor of new account setups at Aflac, said this is her second year as a loaned executive. When she was nominated last year, she didn't know what to expect. But her eyes were opened to the needs of the community.
Barnes said she was shocked when she saw the number of suitcases and duffle bags at the Homeless Resource Network. They were left by homeless people who needed some place to keep their belongings when they went looking for work. "I thought to myself, 'How fortunate I am to be able to put things in a drawer,'" she said. "I couldn't believe it."
Barnes said she retold such stories to convince others to give to United Way, and she plans to do the same this year.
"The stories about children and women are always a getter," she said. "They get to the heart and really inspire people to give."