United Way of Southeast Georgia hopes to collect a cool $600,000 this year, said 2008-2009 campaign chairman Barry Westbrooks as he spoke Wednesday morning before a crowd of team leaders and guests.
"We fell a little short of that last year but we felt this year we need to set our sights a little higher," he said to the breakfast crowd at the United Way kickoff event held inside Paulson Stadium's Bishop Building.
United Way is a "local, geographically based movement" with about 30,000 recipients, he said. The efforts of community leaders to collect donations help organizations such as Safe Haven, American Red Cross, Boys and Girls' Club, and Senior Companion, as well as may others, he said.
Lynda Williams, chairman of the United Way of Southeast Georgia board of directors, urged others to work hard to solicit donations. "It takes all of us to be a United Way community," she said.
Westbrooks reminded the crowd reasons to donate. "There are some in our community who aren't that fortunate," he said. "This year, more than ever, we need your help."
There has been a decline in donations over the past few years, and "certainly we have to see that turn around," he said.
But the good news is, "pace setter companies" - local businesses and industries that are historically leaders in donation collections and pledges - have already raised a third of the total goal - and the "season" has just begin, he said. The official campaign began Monday, Sept. 15 and runs through Nov. 21.
"With our pace setter companies this year we are off to a good start," he said. "We are about $10,000 ahead of last year already."
Westbrooks urged listeners to be leaders within their companies and told them "don't underestimate the power of incentives to give" when soliciting employee involvement.
Dr. John Waters, pastor at First Baptist Church, was keynote speaker for the kickoff event and gave a brief, inspirational speech.
Playing upon the theme for this year's campaign, he said " A little 'you' goes a long way.
"It takes a drop, it takes a deed, it takes an action, it takes one person to make a difference," he said. "The success of United way comes from individual people ... from every walk of life ... (who) give of themselves, of their time, of their energy."
He spoke about helping move a heavy piece of furniture once, and how he took on more than he could handle. Too proud to admit it or ask for help, he almost dropped the load when suddenly several others came to help.
"It is amazing how light that heavy load became when many hands were put to it," he said.
Waters challenged listeners to participate in the campaign "with an excitement and dedication that is second to none. Challenge everyone we know and everyone we see to support this campaign. As great as this community is ... you, through United way, can make the lives of its citizens better."
Other local agencies that benefit from United Way include ACTS, CASA, the Food Bank, Homebound Care and Prevent Child Abuse Bulloch County.