One person's courageous story typifies United Way's successes

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I have a story to tell – about Willie and the Kroc. This is not a story of a hunter surviving in the jungle, but the story of a man surviving – actually thriving – in inner-city Augusta.

Briah Ayers laughs as she chats with a friend during an arts and crafts class at the Kroc Center in Augusta in this 2012 photo. The Kroc Center is one of many agencies that cooperates with the United Way of the CSRA's community-enhancing programs.  MICHAEL HOLAHAN/FILE
Briah Ayers laughs as she chats with a friend during an arts and crafts class at the Kroc Center in Augusta in this 2012 photo. The Kroc Center is one of many agencies that cooperates with the United Way of the CSRA's community-enhancing programs.

For the second year, I have the true blessing of working as a loaned professional at United Way of the CSRA. I retired from Savannah River Site, and my former employer, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, pays my expenses. I am no cost to the United Way. The Department of Energy and Southern Nuclear also provide loaned professionals, also paying their expenses. That makes United Way of the CSRA even more cost-efficient.

BACK TO THE story. Willie Brown grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in a drug-infested neighborhood. Alcohol and drugs were a way of life, and Willie embraced that lifestyle for 30 years. He came to Augusta to be with his sister, but she would not let him in her house because of his drug use. He slept in a car in the street in front of her house. After a few cold nights, Willie came to the conclusion that his lifestyle would kill him. He realized he needed help – the first step in most lifestyle changes. Now, where to go?

Willie went to the Salvation Army and went through their rehab program. When “graduation” time came, Willie did not leave. He knew he needed more time and more help. He knew he was not ready for a normal life. He continued to work with them and became a sober, drug-free man.

But the story gets better.

Go by the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Augusta’s historic Harrisburg neighborhood, and you will see a man working on the grounds, or cleaning out a fountain, or adding a new personalized brick to the walkway. That is Willie Brown, working each day, drug-free and enjoying life.

I met Willie Brown as we joined forces to make a presentation to a local credit union. Now, I think I can present the United Way story pretty well. I have been a donor for 40 years, worked here for two and know about the agencies. I take my notes and present, with passion, the story of United Way of the CSRA.

WILLIE BROWN does not use notes! He stands in front of the audience and, from the heart, tells of the literally life-saving changes brought about in his life by this United Way-supported agency, the Salvation Army. I will gladly admit that Willie’s presentation was better than mine!

The heart of United Way is the fact that there are 23 agencies that have Willie Brown stories. I have seen disabled people working each day, potentially troubled youths in a safe learning environment and very young babies in the care of loving workers.

Working people without insurance can go to a health clinic that provides medical care on an affordable, sliding scale. People with HIV can find shelter, be fed and learn to cope with their illness. People with hearing problems can get attention and be able to function again.

Homeless people can get off the streets and find jobs. Autistic people can learn work skills. Seniors can get nutritious meals, get exercise and volunteer to help others.

The key to change is education. At-risk youth can attend after school tutoring programs, get their GEDs and even go to college. No, more than just go to college. One area student is attending one of the most prestigious schools in the Southeast – all of this with the help of United Way-sponsored education programs.

Sadly, domestic violence is too real in our area. Victims of this horror can call a 24-hour hotline, manned constantly by a caring, live person. The initial question is “Are you safe?” How comforting that must be to the caller. The victim and their children are then placed in a safe environment, but even more, they are taught jobs, and life and family skills. They are given the chance to turn their lives around.

Remember, this is about a hand up, not a hand out. United Way dollars have an impact on lives.

The No. 1 cause of death in our country for a child younger than 6 is physical abuse! Please read that statement again. The premier child advocacy agency in this area is a part of United Way of the CSRA. Does that make your contributions seem more important?

FAMILIES OF children who are in our medical community for an extended time need housing. Yes, there is an agency that can help with housing. People with mental illnesses are taught job skills and begin new lives by working and contributing. Family counseling, teaching at-risk inner-city youths to play music, and working with proven programs for our youth all are parts of United Way of the CSRA.

Each time I go to a United Way agency, I want to support it. That’s the beauty of United Way: You can make one donation and each of the 23 agencies are served. Your one donation will help so many of our family, friends and neighbors in the CSRA.

Please accept my invitation to call United Way – (706) 724-5544 – and ask to tour an agency, any agency. I am convinced you will be pleased with where the money is spent.

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Gary Ross
Gary Ross 11/03/13 - 07:57 am
Not all sunshine and blue skies

Although it is always good to read success stories such as this, it does not tell the whole story. Call me old fashioned, but I believe in looking at all sides before making any kind of determination or judgement. There is also a bad side to the United Way which should be told before tooting their horn too loudly. The United Way was the driving force behind corrupting the Boy Scouts of America by demanding they allow gays in. That battle went on for many years before it made headlines. The United Way even went as far as cut all funding, forcing the BSA to make a choice between loosing their moral values or to ultimately go out of business! It's politics, and it's all about money and power. Just like what you see going on in the federal government today. The real question to ask here is; how can one non-profit organization get away with dictating how another non-profit orgaization is to operate? I'm sorry, but I see that as just another step towards bland socialism in America, where the people will be ruled by heartless agencies. What's the point in winning a battle with a Willie Brown story if we lose the war? Yes, it would be good to call the number and ask for a tour of any United Way agency, but don't settle for a one-sided "presentation". Do your homework before investing in or donating to ANY organization!

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