Originally created 03/10/02

Unified community met needs of a challenging year

OTHERS WILL decide the outcome of the latest political debates as to how the consolidated government of Augusta should be structured. Most of us agree that change is essential and compromise will be necessary.

The risk of these debates, however, is that the ideas about change for the betterment of the community could get lost among strong personal feelings.

This is a good time, then, to remember the lessons in Augusta of Sept. 11. Those lessons are the results of positive, united community leadership. In seven days, community leaders and individuals, companies, schools and churches united to lead Augusta and its surrounding communities to raise the first million dollars presented to the victims and families affected by the disaster.

Then they encouraged the community to unite in support of the local United Way campaign and those who depend on local funds - not only for help, but also for hope. Even as our community was still reeling from the devastating shock of Sept. 11, we quickly refocused on helping here at home.

PERHAPS SOME of our elected officials should consider this an object lesson in community unity. In spite of tremendous economic pressures, local United Way volunteers and donors pulled together to do something never done before. This community's unity resulted in United Way's record-breaking 2001 campaign that ended with the announcement of a total of $4,023,634 in pledges and gifts.

Not only is this important to the many individuals who will benefit from the programs that will be funded in a 15-county area, it is important as a point of pride for Augusta and the surrounding communities of the Central Savannah River Area.

We have demonstrated that we are enriched by our diversity, but we are strengthened by our unity. Now, the goal of reaching a $5 million annual campaign by 2005 seems undeniable.

Throughout the fall, we continued to look long and hard at the $4.120 million goal that we had set for 2001. Some questioned whether the goal was still realistic. Most questioned whether the community's charitable pockets had been emptied by the generous outpouring of over $1.1 million in support of the Sept. 11 Care and Prayer Crusade.

All wondered what those who depend on United Way donations for help and for hope would do if we did not pull together to reach this goal.

UNITED WAY'S community of donors and volunteers refused to be deterred by reports of a weakened economy. We stayed focused on the goal and the threads of common good that strengthen the fabric of the community, rather than the occasional assault that tears at that fabric.

If you followed the progress of the large United Way thermometers throughout the community, you noticed that the 2001 campaign total of over $4 million represented 98 percent of our 2001 goal.

Some would dwell on the 2 percent shortfall, but most of us are grateful for the glass that is 98 percent full.

THIS IS MORE than a story about the success of a United Way campaign in Georgia's second largest city and its surrounding communities. It is a story about a community who, when given the opportunity to unite, united. It is a story about help and about hope. Could some of our elected leaders learn from it? Now that's another story.

(Editor's note: The writer is the president and chief executive officer of United Way of the CSRA, Inc.)


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