Once again, United Way of the Lowcountry has set an ambitious goal of $2.8 million for its annual campaign.
The group fell just short of the same goal last year, raising more than $2.7 million, an achievement worthy of praise, especially when you consider how many contributions come from individual donors in this community.
The $2.8 million goal is not pulled out of thin air. It is based on United Way's broad-based assessment of the community's needs and the work of the more than 40 agencies it supports in Beaufort and Jasper counties.
The 2012 campaign is off to a good start, with more than $711,210 raised from 97 organizations and businesses that contributed before the public campaign began. That compares with about $423,000 raised by the "pacesetters" last year.
Sandra Chavez, chairman of the group's board of directors, summed up well United Way's approach to making a difference in our community:
"We are investing in the building blocks for a quality community -- helping people meet their basic needs (food, clothing and shelter) while also addressing the front-end issues of education, health and financial stability."
That approach makes sense and provides the focus required to make concrete progress.
United Way's focus on education also takes a building-blocks approach. Its Success by 6 program helps to make sure children enter school ready to learn. Eighty-five percent of entering first-graders test at grade level as measured by nationally normed tests, according to United Way's 2011 annual report.
This year, the group aims to ensure that at least 80 percent of students in Beaufort and Jasper counties are reading at grade level when they enter the fourth grade.
The long-range goal is to cut the dropout rate in the two counties by 50 percent by 2022.
United Way officials recognize that children who fall behind early are much more likely to drop out. Keeping children performing at grade level is key to reducing dropout rates.
There's no better way to ensure a healthy, financially stable community than through an educated citizenry.
To reach this goal, United Way needs our help. The group wants to recruit 600 new volunteer mentors, tutors and readers for this effort
More than 200 tutors have already signed up and will begin training soon, said United Way CEO Clarece Walker, who is working on her last annual campaign here. She retires in February after 35 years of service.
We're confident that the 600 goal can be reached, and we're confident the $2.8 million goal can be achieved if we all do our part. Please consider giving and volunteering.