United Way kicks off new campaign year
By Hugh Fisher
SALISBURY — The sunny attitudes of Rowan’s United Way staff were overshadowed by Mother Nature.
As the annual charity soapbox derby got under way, clouds darkened the sky and the wind whipped up.
Organizer Joe Finney of the Hurley Family YMCA said that was no matter.
“This is all our contributors, here to raise awareness,” Finney said.
Two at a time, the cars rolled off the starting ramp at the Square and powered down the long, steep hill toward the historic courthouse.
“The point of the events is to raise awareness in the community of what United Way does,” Finney said.
This year’s campaign goal is $1.6 million, according to Jackie Harris of the YMCA.
“We’re very happy with the turnout,” she said. “The weather played a role in some of the people leaving early, but we’re really grateful to the people who made this possible.”
For Alan Merrell and other contestants in the soapbox derby, the point of the race wasn’t winning, but supporting the cause.
Merrell piloted the Chandler Concrete car to victory, the company’s second consecutive winning year.
“It’s all about helping others,” Adam Kluttz of Chandler Concrete said.
Second place went to John Peterson of the East Rowan YMCA.
And Kristen Durham, receptionist at Rowan Vocational Opportunities, rounded out the pack in third.
“It was really nice,” Durham said. “We are a United Way agency, and … I really like coming and supporting my work.”
The big races of the evening, the Sunset 5K and children’s fun run, went off without major issues.
The Sunset Run 5K drew about 300 registered participants, according to organizers, with the $25 entry fee going to the United Way.
Runners took a course that doglegged through downtown Salisbury, starting on Fisher Street and finishing on Bank Street a block away.
The top overall finisher was Anthony Famiglietti, with an unofficial time of 14 minutes, 40 seconds.
The top female finisher was Betty Geiger of Raleigh, with an unofficial time of 18:12.
Famiglietti, who lives in Davidson, is a two-time Olympic competitor in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, organizers said.
For Steve Fisher, chairman of this year’s United Way campaign, the race and the events put on by affiliates Friday night were crucial to getting a positive start on fundraising.
“I think the biggest challenge is the perception that $1.6 million can’t be raised in this economy” Fisher said.
“It can. And all the reasons why people think it can’t are the reasons why it has to be.”
He said the 16 member agencies are those that help many during tough times, naming the Rowan County Rescue Squad and Meals on Wheels, among others.
“We have thousands of homebound elderly folks in this county,” Fisher said.
“Many times that’s the only hot meal they get in a day.”
Those agencies were represented at booths and tents along South Main Street.
Members of Girl Scout troops 835 and 543 of the Hornets Nest Council were on hand, passing out mints, stickers and information on scouting.
Sara Coe, 14, of Troop 835 said she was glad to be a part of the fundraiser.
Deardra Liddle, Rowan County service unit manager for the Girl Scout council, said United Way dollars helped make scouting available for low-income families.
“We don’t turn girls away on account of finances,” Liddle said.
While the rain fell, they stayed under the awning, passing out stickers.
The band Moorhead kept making music as the lightning flashed.
“We’re gonna keep playing as long as it’s safe,” one vocalist told the crowd just before they launched into The Band’s classic “Up On Cripple Creek.”
Though turnout slackened after the storms moved in, Karen South Carpenter stayed optimistic.
“It’s going to clear up,” she said about an hour before the scheduled start time for the 5K race.
And it did, just as organizers hope Friday night’s kickoff will clear up worries about fundraising in this sour economy.
“We can’t control Wall Street, we can’t control Europe,” Fisher said. “But we sure can take care of our own folks.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.