Back in March, I served on a community investment panel for our local United Way. We and the members of the seven other panels interviewed agencies applying for United Way funds for 2012.
We toured their facilities, discussed their programs, scrutinized their budgets and evaluated their planning, organization and financial accountability. We then recommended a level of funding for each program based on stewardship and community impact.
Our panel recommendations were combined to form a goal recommended to the United Way of the Lowcountry board for this year's campaign. On Thursday, the volunteers will announce that goal, and the 2011 campaign will officially begin.
Peter Post, this year's campaign chairman for northern Beaufort County, believes that if everyone knew what United Way does in this community, reaching the goal would be easy.
"I just don't think people understand the life-saving nature of the work our United Way agencies do," Post said. "I'm not even sure I understood it until I started working on the campaign.
"Abused kids helped by Hope Haven and CAPA, abused moms and their children sheltered and helped by CODA -- aren't these agencies saving lives?
"And what about HelpLine, helping people find a way to pay their heating bill when it's freezing and they have a new baby?
"And United Way is a buffer for our military people. So many of our HelpLine calls come from spouses of those in harm's way.
"The Boys & Girls Club and the YMCA -- aren't they keeping kids away from drugs that would ultimately kill them? And the Y saves lives every day by teaching our children and grandchildren to swim.
"The meals delivered by my wife and others keep homebound people alive -- and if I could take my friends to some of the places we deliver food, they would all give to United Way immediately. And the funding from United Way helps agencies leverage grants they wouldn't get otherwise, because they have those United Way dollars as local matching funds."
Post has been helping people his whole life. And starting Thursday, more than 400 local volunteers, our friends and neighbors who believe in United Way, will be visiting workplaces, hosting neighborhood parties, signing letters and making phone calls to encourage everyone to give what they can.
In a down economy, Post said, the needs of a community increase exponentially. At the same time, those who could afford to give have fewer assets -- not a good combination "for those who would be homeless or starving without us."
United Way agencies in our community in 2012 will provide almost 9,000 nights of shelter; deliver more than a million pounds of food; provide 30,000 hours of counseling services for victims of abuse and chronic illness; educate nearly 40,000 people about child, domestic and sexual abuse; provide emergency help to more than 9,000 families; and involve 7,100 kids and adults in literacy and other educational activities.
The campaign that starts Thursday will support these efforts and much more.
Post has a suggestion for new givers: Give $1 a day for a year. Send $365 to United Way of the Lowcountry (P.O. Box 202, Beaufort, SC 29901) and see how good it makes you feel to give someone else a hand.
To learn more about United Way in our community, come to Pinckney Hall at Sun City Hilton Head at 10 a.m. Thursday for the kickoff, or call one of the Lowcountry United Way offices: 843-982-3040 in Beaufort, 843-837-2000 in Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island or 843-645-4500 in Ridgeland.
Sometimes sharing what you have with someone who has nothing can make you feel like the wealthiest person in the world.
Marge Barber is a retired journalist, community volunteer and former Director of Communications for United Way of the Lowcountry.