United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley kicked off its 2013 “Hunting for the Goal” fundraising campaign Thursday, announcing a $7 million goal for eight counties.
The announcement was made at a Duck Dynasty-themed luncheon that drew 1,000 people to the Columbus Convention and Trade Center. Barbara Gauthier, a WTVM news anchor, emceed the program, and Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor made his debut as the 2013 campaign chair. The crowd consisted of executives and employees from local companies, elected officials, United Way agencies and volunteers. The campaign will run until December with help from 23 loaned executives who will raise 70 percent of the funds.
Taylor and Scott Ferguson, president and CEO of the local United Way, were dressed as characters in the popular Duck Dynasty A &E reality show about duck hunters. Both men were featured in two humorous videos. One based on the introduction of the TV show, and another where they hunted for ducks in the woods. Ferguson had a white ponytail, and Taylor shoulder length black hair. They both sported beards and bandanas. United Way staff, hosting the event, were dressed in camouflage t-shirts with the words “Live United.”
In his remarks, Taylor reminded the audience that the community raised $6.9 million last year, the most ever in local history. The organization also raised an additional $763,943.86 through its Combined Federal Campaign at Fort Benning. Taylor said he was accepting the challenge to do even better.
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“Rodney we’re going to beat you this year,” he said, looking at last year’s chairman, Rodney Mahone, publisher of the Ledger Enquirer. “Don’t’ get upset.”
Kelly Johnston, a Pratt Whitney employee who co-chairs the United Way Women's Leadership Council, told the crowd about a program that collects bras and underwear for women in need. She invited the community to a Nov. 8 "Power of the Purse" luncheon at the St. Luke Ministry Center. Tickets are $25 per person, and proceeds will go to the undergarment voucher program.
Gracen Wood, a Columbus High School senior with the United Way Youth Council, said young people are also doing their part. They raised $4,400 last year.
"That's amazing, I think," she said, getting a laugh from the audience. She said there will be an October 24 football game to raise money for this year's campaign.
Tequana Killcreak, a freshman at Columbus State University, was the keynote speaker. She described her experience growing up in programs at the Open Door Community House, a United Way Agency. She learned to work hard in school, play basketball and overcome her shyness.
“They helped me believe I could help people like I was helped,” she said. “They kept encouraging me to do my best.”
Killcreak, a graduate of Jordan High School, said she is pursuing a major in communications and a minor in music. She joined ROTC with the intention of becoming an army officer, and she hopes to play basketball for CSU some day.
“I’m so glad God helped me walk down the path of success,” said Killcreak, who received a standing ovation. “Thank you United Way and Open Door Mission for helping me. And thank you everyone for listening to my story.”
Last year, the United Way funded of 27 agencies from dollars raised through pledges from the fundraising campaign. The money was used to support 50 programs that focus on four core areas of service: basic needs, income, health and education, according to information released by the United Way. The funding was unanimously approved by the agency’s board of directors and is based on the recommendations of 62 community investment and eight financial review volunteers.
Other funded agencies included The Family Center of Columbus Inc.; Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Chattahoochee Valley, Families and Schools Together, Family Counseling of Columbus, Easter Seals West Georgia Inc. and Consumer Credit Counseling Service of West Georgia and East Alabama.