United Way was more than a fundraiser

Published 9:46 am Friday, January 16, 2015

By Anne Bryant

This is my last Your Turn column as executive director of the Franklin-Southampton Area United Way. I’m retiring mid-January after an 8-year love affair with United Way, the agencies our donors support and the people they help.

I started in May, 2006, but didn’t fall in love until that fall when Graz’n Acres hosted the Chamber of Commerce. I sort of knew what Graz’n Acres did, but had not seen them in action. Here’s what I saw that night: a young girl maybe 6 or 7 sitting on a bench with her head hung low, looking like she didn’t have the strength or control to lift it. Sad. About 30 minutes later this same young girl was on the back of a horse, back straight, head held high, exuding confidence. I was just amazed at the transformation. And I fell in love.

This is just one of many transformations that took place over the last 8 years. Another favorite story: A middle-school girl (let’s call her Sheila) is causing routine trouble at J.P. King Middle School — acting up, causing fights, sassing her teachers. Then Ray Williams and the school-based Case Management Program for at-risk kids stepped in. Mr. Williams mentored this girl, giving feedback on her behavior.

Sheila enrolled in the Aggression Replacement Training class to successfully learn how to handle her anger. Grades and absences improved. Teachers called her a pleasure to have in the classroom. Lessons learned in school spilled over into real life when one night Sheila and her friends were out roaming around. When she realized they planned to break into an apartment, Sheila left and went home.

She was quick to admit that before this program, she just might have been part of this. A win for everyone when kids like Sheila stay out of trouble and earn their promotion to the next grade.

During the last 8 years, generous donors have allowed us the privilege of awarding over $1.5 million to local agencies to help many thousands of local people — your friends, family, neighbors and co-workers — perhaps you, too. Unfortunately, many people still need assistance with the safety net of food, clothing, and shelter. Thankfully we have Franklin Cooperative Ministry, Salvation Army, Food Bank of SE Virginia, Genieve Shelter and others to help with this.

During my time here, United Way grew to be more than just a fundraiser. I have been a member of the Smart Beginnings Western Tidewater collaboration for several years. This group of 30-plus volunteers dedicates time and resources to helping our kids be healthy and ready to learn when they get to kindergarten.

This United Way has also given away hundreds of children’s books at various functions. The largest event was a book swap/book give away last June celebrating National Summer Learning Day. United Way partnered with the Blackwater Regional Library System and Smart Beginnings to have three locations covering Franklin, Southampton and Isle of Wight.

Children and parents were delighted, asking to do this again. But too many children were surprised (though excited) to know they could choose books to take home and keep. And, yes, we plan to do the event again this summer.

The United Way tag line is Live United — when you reach out a hand to one, you influence the condition of all. For Franklin-Southampton Area United Way and our agencies, this is not a tag line, but a core belief. And we live it daily as we help people to assemble the building blocks for a better life — Health, Education and Financial Stability. Thank you to everyone who has helped us make progress toward this goal.

Two last things in closing. I would be remiss if I didn’t take one last opportunity to ask you to give to United Way. Donate online at www.franklinunitedway.org or mail a check to FSAUW/PO Box 366/Franklin, VA 23851. Thank you.

And to welcome Trish Edwards, a Franklin native, as the new Executive Director. She has the skills we need and will do a great job — I leave United Way in good hands.

ANNE BRYANT is the former Executive Director, Franklin-Southampton Area United Way). You may email her anneandhb@hotmail.com.