United Way celebrates 2010, readies to met challenges of a new year

As Benalee Hutsell listened to the description of the person chosen for this year’s Live United Volunteer of the Year during the United Way of Blount County Annual Meeting, she thought the person sounded interesting.

“As I listened, I thought I’d like to meet that person,” Hutsell said.

It was just a few moments later into the introduction that Hutsell, who is the volunteer office manager for the Trinity Dental Clinic, realized they were introducing her.

Hutsell came to the clinic more than a year ago after suffering the heartbreak of losing her daughter Michele to breast cancer.

“When I started to try to volunteer, I had been away three and a half years with my daughter Michele. It was my first time back in the community after burying her,” Hutsell said. “This is just where I was drawn. I knew God wanted me there for a reason. That’s why I am there today.”

Year of Caring Chair Regina Jennings presented the Live United awards. In addition to Hutsell receiving Individual Volunteer of the Year, the ROC -- Reaching Our Community -- program at First Baptist Church of Maryville won Organizational Volunteer of the Year.

ROC received the award in the organization category for their community service in Blount County, including helping families move into new residences, making home repairs, supplying home furnishings, transporting family members, helping the family resource centers for local school systems and donating food, Jennings said.

Carol Lucas, coordinator with ROC, said she accepted the honor on behalf of the ROC volunteers. “I feel gratitude because there are so many people who work so hard to make ROC happen,” she said. “It is nice to have the recognition come to those volunteers.”

At the annual meeting, United Way of Blount County wrapped up the year past, honoring out-going board members, welcoming new board members and a new chair and praising volunteers, community partners, supporting companies, staff and member organization. The more than 200 who attended were treated to lunch from Sullivan’s.

The lunch meeting was also a time of laughter and well wishes as board chairs passed the torch to new leadership. United Way of Blount County Board Chair Brenda Sellers presented a giant coffee cup to United Way president and CEO Michelle Hankes, as well as a gift of motorcycle lessons from herself, the board and staff. Community Impact Chair Judith Craw and Campaign Chair Greg Wilson were also honored.

At the meeting, Hankes presented the State of United Way, introducing the nine new target issues for the organization and explaining part of the process for determining them.

Target issues are the issues that United Way address through fund distribution in the primary focus areas of education, health and self-sufficiency.

“Imagine every child in Blount County,” Hankes said. “We have programs locally to help prevent problems through after-school care, financial education for families, counseling, (and others)…United Way fund programs in these capacities.

“But as much as these programs hold a child up, issues push a child down, like homelessness, mom or dad has a drug or alcohol problem, or their house is falling apart, for example. United Way funds programs to address these issues, too.”

Hankes said it is cheaper to invest in educating children and adults than incarcerating them. Hankes said the average cost for educating a child in a public school in Blount County is $8,773. “The average cost to incarcerate a person for a year is $17,338,” she said.

Hankes announced the call for new programs to face the three most pressing gaps United Way has found this year in Blount County - adult job skills, stable housing and services for people with special needs.

Hankes said that nonprofit organizations that address job skills, stable housing and special needs are encouraged to fill out an application for community partner pre-approval. To access the application, organizations may download the form at liveunitedblount.org/newagencyapplication.

“We’re looking for agencies to partner with our agencies,” she said. “Every agency that we currently partner with will be asked to submit proposals in these three areas.”

Hankes recognized the United Way staff for their dedication in the past year. “I want to thank our staff,” she said. “They are the best staff ever.”

United Way Board Member of the Year went to Kevin Painter. The “competition” was different this year, Hankes said, as she had a point system to encourage board members to be more active in United Way initiatives and in the community. Three runners up were Katherine Best Caputo, John Hinkle and Greg Wilson.

Hankes also recognized Brenda Sellers for her efforts chairing the board of directors during the last year, presenting her with a scrapbook chronicling her time as the board chair and giving her an array of presents from the board of directors and staff of United Way.

Sellers, who actually took over early when chair Dr. Bill Seymour left for a new job in West Tennessee, thanked the board and staff for their support. She then passed the torch to incoming board chair Kevin Painter.

“I’m very humbled to have the opportunity to serve as United Way chair,” Painter said. “As some of you know, my father served as chair in 1988, so being in this role really is a distinct personal privilege. I want to thank Rick Shepard for encouraging me to get involved with United Way five years ago.”

Painter said that in the coming year, United Way will work to be an even better steward of donors’ contributions. “We will continue to find ways to maximize each dollar donated to provide life-changing support to Blount Countians,” he said. “We look forward to the great things on the horizon for the United Way of Blount County in 2011.”

Officers of the 2011 United Way of Blount County board of directors include Kevin Painter, Chair; John Hinkle, Chair Elect/Treasurer; Ken Cooper, Community Impact; Lea Anne Law, General Campaign Chair, and Directors at Large Judith Craw and Dave Ogle.

Newly-elected members of the board of directors to serve a three-year term include Jonathan Barker, Carl Esposito, Michael Hearon, and Jane Tolhurst.

Tony Crisp, Kathy Johnson, Denia Lash and Greg Wilson each were re-elected to serve a three-year term on the board of directors. Brenda Sellers and Melissa Thompson were re-elected to serve a one-year term, and Lea Anne Law was elected to serve a one-year term.

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