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United Way reveals $7.1 million 2016 goal

United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley kicked off its 2016 fundraising campaign on Thursday with the all-inclusive theme “Every 1 Counts.”

The event was held at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center, where about 1,000 people showed up. The crowd consisted of United Way agencies, local companies and elected officials, as well as the organization’s staff, volunteers, donors and clients.

The Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia and Boy Scouts of America, Chattahoochee Council, served as color guards.

Keith Pierce, TSYS executive vice president and the 2016 United Way chair, revealed the organization’s $7,110,001 goal with the help of six other people who held placards with the figures. Pierce said United Way supports 29 agencies and 57 programs throughout the eight-county Chattahoochee Valley.

“I want you to know every person in this room counts, every person at every agency that we support through the United Way counts, every dollar that we raise during this campaign is going to make a difference,” he said. “And I know we’re going to have a tremendous campaign.”

Scott Ferguson, CEO and president of the local United Way, highlighted other United Way programs. He said Stuff the Bus, which provides backpacks filled with school supplies for children at Title I schools, distributed 4,620 backpacks during its third year. He said the organization’s 211 service referral program had also been successful, with 11,000 calls in less than two years. The Home for Good program has housed 119 veterans and 109 chronically homeless people over the past 18 months, he said.

Susan Wiggins spoke on behalf of the Women’s Leadership Council, a group comprised of women who give $1,000 or more annually to the United Way. Wiggins said the group currently has 370 members, and she invited women in the audience to join. She said 1,000 members would mean at least another $1 million for the United Way campaign.

Wiggins said the group will hold its fifth annual “Power of the Purse Luncheon” Nov. 15 from 11:30 to 1 p.m. at the St. Luke Ministry Center. The program collects new undergarments for women in need at local United Way agencies.

This year, the luncheon’s keynote speaker will be Ronda Rich, a writer, speaker and syndicated columnist. Rich is author of a book titled, “What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should).” Tickets to the luncheon are $35 per person and $300 per table of eight.

As part of the kickoff, the United Way honored first responders who were seated in the audience. The group included representatives from the Columbus Police Department, Columbus Fire & EMS Department, Phenix City Fire Department, Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office, Russell County Sheriff’s Office, the Muscogee County Marshal’s Office and active-duty military and veterans. The crowd gave them a standing ovation.

David Parham, a U.S. Air Force veteran, told the crowd about how he became homeless after quitting a good-paying job due to unrealistic expectations. Parham said he struggled economically after that, working five jobs but still not being able to pay his bills. He eventually got a better job, but he couldn’t afford to put enough gas in his car to get to and from work. So he began sleeping at work or in his car.

After praying one night, he went to the Columbus Housing Authority, which placed him on a waiting list. The agency eventually provided him with a housing voucher through United Way and New Horizons. Now he works at the Boys & Girls Club helping at-risk teens, and he’s pursuing Microsoft certification at Columbus Technical College.

“The positive outcome of all of this is life is headed in the right direction now,” he said. “Along the way, I’ve met some friends who support me and uplift me through struggles in tough times.”

Alva James-Johnson: 706-571-8521, @amjreporter