October 27, 1997
Volume 50, No. 10
I'd better own up to the fact that until about a year ago, I was no great fan of United Way. It sounds contradictory, coming from this year's United Way coordinator, but it's true. I didn't give because I became convinced in the '80s that a Midwest chapter-and thus all United Ways-favored male youth groups to the detriment of females. Using that to justify not giving seems odd now, but it made perfect sense at the time. In fact, I carried that attitude until about a year ago.
I heard a story recently about an Emory employee who was driving to work and suffered a serious accident, causing brain injury to her child. After his hospitalization, the child was referred to a special school for brain-injured children at REACH (Rendering Effective Aid to Children), an organization near Emory that receives United Way support.
Karen, the employee, said, "I never dreamed when I did payroll deduction that we would reap the benefits of my contributions." Her son Michael has recovered, and thanks to the resources and support of REACH, he's back in regular school. That REACH support changed fear into hope and literally changed the family's entire reality.
Stories like that call our attention to what's really important and how much people benefit from the real, tangible help that comes from United Way agencies. Seventy-eight nonprofit organizations in the metro Atlanta area receive a portion of their support through United Way. The support United Way gives to its member agencies goes toward program delivery, not administrative costs. These agencies help children, families and seniors; they help families of all circumstances cope with aging; they help those suffering from debilitating diseases like epilepsy, sickle cell and HIV; they provide shelter for battered women and abused children; and they help people ravaged by drugs and alcohol.
None of these agencies could possibly afford to solicit the number of people that all of them can as a group through the United Way. With each unrestricted donation, all of these worthy causes benefit, and more people get the help they need.
Another benefit: if many lend their support, it doesn't take much of a donation to make a difference. Too many people think if they can't give a large amount, it's not worth giving at all. Nothing could be further from the truth. For every gift of $5 or even $1 a week, there are thousands more just like it, and together they add up to a lot of help. And if you're inclined to be one of Emory's Leadership Givers of $1,000 or more, know that an anonymous donor is matching all new Leadership gifts and increases of 10 percent or more of previous Leadership givers. Emory's goal this year is a modest $283,200. That's only 80 cents a day for the 7,000 employees that make up the University side of the campaign.
Some people like to target specific organizations for their support, and that's fine. With the Specific Care Pledge Form, you can send your support directly to a particular agency, or you can select a group of agencies or a certain cause or issue to support, like building families, helping HIV sufferers and so forth. And, if there's a particular agency you'd rather not support, you can be assured that your contribution goes elsewhere.
Some Emory employees live outside the metro area and would rather support agencies in their local counties. Although the metro Atlanta United Way includes agencies from all surrounding counties, through the Emory campaign you can earmark your contribution for a United Way outside of metro Atlanta. United Way not only lets you decide where your gift goes but how it's given. You can contribute through monthly or biweekly payroll deduction, or you can pledge an amount and choose how often to be billed.
In the past, some Emory employees have had some legitimate concerns about the way Emory's United Way campaign was run, and in response we have changed the program. No longer are names and Social Security numbers preprinted on the pledge forms distributed to each employee. And no longer must all employees complete and return the form regardless of whether they plan to give. United Way is an appeal that is founded on voluntary support, not coercion-I want people to give because they want to, not because they feel pressured. And I hope Emory's United Way campaign is only one of several ways that Emory people give to their community.
As I said at the beginning, things change in the blink of an eye. Recently my mother suffered a fall in the hospital that put her in a wheelchair. As my 85-year-old father and I struggle to cope, the Visiting Nurses Association, another United Way agency, has been a lifesaver. All of a sudden the value of giving to those I didn't know and would probably never meet became clear. I realized that I'd been stingy with my plenty and my caring. It certainly wasn't how I was raised, but saying "no" became an easy excuse for not caring.
So I've made a commitment to make United Way one of the contributions I make each year. My message isn't for those who already give their time, money or skills to charities; it's for those who can give, yet don't. United Way is a quick, easy and meaningful way to touch a lot of lives. I'm one who believes that whatever you give comes back to you threefold, and that's not a bad rate of return!
Michelle Smith is director of corporate relations and coordinator
of the Emory United Way campaign.
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