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United Way, agencies appeal for fundraising help

Bad news – the United Way of Greater Augusta is looking at a potential 30 percent hit on its fundraising campaign for 2008-2009 due to the slumping macroeconomy. Worse news – that means possible cuts for area agencies that receive United Way funding toward their day-to-day operations.

“We have referrals on their way up, and we’re planning to ask the United Way to help pick up some of that slack in the program with less funding. It would be a real shame to have to lay off one or both of our parent educators,” said Alan Fairfield, the executive director of the Family Resource and Referral Center in Staunton, which provides a wide range of services to parents and families in the Greater Augusta area.

Fairfield and other agency heads gathered at the United Way office in Fishersville Monday morning to talk with the local news media about the impact that the shortfall in the United Way campaign, projected right now at $225,000, could have on the services that they provide to the local community.

“We run children with disabilities programming, and those folks would not be able to participate at the level that they have with that program without United Way funds,” said Jeff Fife, the executive director of the Waynesboro YMCA. “And the United Way helps a lot of kids in our basketball and swimming programs that wouldn’t normally be able to afford our services. So it would be, in a way, cutting back on our ability to serve some of those children and families that need it most with a shortfall in United Way funding moving into next year,” Fife said.

The United Way had set a $750,000 ’08-’09 campaign goal. The organization is projecting that it will raise closer to $525,000 all told, which means “we’re also not only behind our campaign goal, we’re on track to raise substantially less money than we did last year,” board president Joe Leigh said.

“It’s in the news about how bad the economy is, that people in this area are hurting. Recently layoffs were announced at local companies, foreclosures are at an all-time high. There’s no question that folks in the community are hurting, and the United Way is not immune to those effects,” Leigh said.

John Whitfield at Blue Ridge Legal Services put it more directly. “When the economy goes bad, we get swamped. And we are under water now,” said Whitfield, who has seen demand for services at Blue Ridge Legal Services, which provides free civil legal assistance to low-income residents of the Central Shenandoah Valley, spike 20 percent just in the most recent quarter. “The really bad news is that we’ve turned away three times as many people this quarter than we had to a year ago. The United Way really helps us reach as many people as we can help. We turn them down, there’s nowhere else they can go,” Whitfield said.

And that is the case for so many service agencies.

“We’ve already seen a significant increase – in fact, our numbers have doubled the past two years. And we expect that only to continue. And if we don’t have significant funding, we can’t keep our fees at a level that is affordable to the clients,” said Ginny Harris, the executive director at Valley Hope Counseling Center in Waynesboro.

“We all know that children are the most vulnerable part of our population. And they didn’t do anything to cause the problems that we see in our economy today. But they will suffer tremendously,” said Judith Shuey, the executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Central Blue Ridge. “If they don’t have adult mentors who care about them and show them the possibilities and be there for them during these hard times. We really depend on the United Way for the funds that help us continue our program to serve the children of this community,” Shuey said.

Leigh used the opportunity to talk to area residents through the local media to make a pitch for whatever boost folks might be able to give to the United Way fundraising effort.

“I know that a lot of folks are having to make some really tough decisions. For everyone who’s already given to the United Way, we thank you very much. We know that some folks just aren’t in a position to give, but we also know that a lot of people may not even be aware that our campaign is being impacted,” Leigh said.

“These are tough times for us, and these tough times translate into tough times for the agencies, and that will translate into tough times for the people who use these agencies,” Leigh said.


– Story by Chris Graham

Publisher’s Note: AFP editor Chris Graham serves on the board of director of the United Way of Greater Augusta.

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