United Way celebrates with $2.15 million raised

Tough economic times touched everyone these past few months, and United Way has been no exception.

United Way of Blount County Campaign Co-Chairs Denny and Cindy Mayes announced Friday that the organization raised $2,159,233 for the community. Despite the economic downturn Blount County faced in the fall, the community raised more money for United Way of Blount County than any previous campaign.

“When we started this campaign, we all boarded this boat together with a destination in mind,” Denny Mayes said. “Somewhere about mid-campaign, we had some trouble. We had to get off the boat, and we got on life rafts.”

With record high gas prices, stock market woes, and area layoffs starting in late September, the Mayes and their cabinet recognized the need to reevaluate its fundraising strategy.

At the celebration Mike Lewis, United Way of Blount County’s board chairman, compared the Mayes’ efforts to making lemonade out of lemons.

“I have dubbed them the King and Queen of Juice,” Lewis said. “When the first wave of challenging news about the economy started coming in, Denny and Cindy went out and began gathering lemons from the ground where they had fallen.

“As the economic news became more challenging, they started picking them from the trees,” Lewis said. “When it seemed there were more challenges than lemons, they began to squeeze, and squeeze, and squeeze.”

While the goal for this year was $2,225,000, Denny and Cindy announced the campaign had raised $2,109,231. At that point, Michelle Hankes announced that additional commitments from phone calls and conversations during lunch had pushed that total to $2,159,233. “That’s significant because that’s the amount of money we had raised last year at the victory celebration,” she said.

Denny and Cindy Mayes recognized more than 50 individuals and companies who gave the 2008 United Way campaign a one-time gift over their regular pledge.

“Four weeks ago we realized we were going to have a significant shortfall with the economy the way it was,” Cindy Mayes said. “Strategizing with our board of directors and campaign cabinet, we decided to go back to our key companies and leadership givers to ask for a one-time above and beyond gift.”

One-time “above and beyond” gifts for United Way’s 2008 campaign totaled $116,700, $50,000 of which was pledged by several anonymous donors mere minutes before the celebration began.

“There’s no way we can begin to thank them for where we are today,” Cindy Mayes said.

Denny said he and Cindy went to the board and key community leaders for advice when the economy turned, and it became difficult to make their goal. “We are blessed to live in the best community on the face of this Earth,” Denny said. “Companies stepped up. We found ways to reach our victory celebration.”

Following the event, Denny and Cindy talked about the campaign. “We were getting phone calls from people across the country, and we still have employee campaigns ongoing,” he said. “Our goal became if we can match last year’s amount, we’ll be able to provide what agencies were provided last year.”

Denny said it appeared they raised about 96 percent of this year’s goal. “It’s a huge success,” he said.

Denny and Cindy Mayes praised the staff at United Way. “They’ve done a wonderful job day in and day out,” Cindy said. “They’re an amazing group that held us together,” Denny said.

The co-chairs also thanked their campaign cabinet. “Each member made a difference,” Cindy said.

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