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Rowan County United Way unveils fundraising goal during campaign kickoff event at Bell Tower Green

SALISBURY — Under a sunny blue sky in Bell Tower Green Park, the Rowan County United Way on Wednesday unveiled this year’s fundraising goal and kicked off its annual campaign.

The socially distanced and masked event was originally planned for last week, but rainy weather forced the United Way to delay. Last year’s kickoff, held at the Rowan County Fairgrounds with attendees watching from behind their car windshields, was similarly delayed as the remnants of Hurricane Sally rolled over the Carolinas.

There were few clouds in the sky Wednesday afternoon when campaign chair Jim Behmer announced the monetary goal from a small stage at the base of the Bell Tower.

For the second straight year, the United Way is seeking to raise $1.5 million that will be distributed to 19 entities who provide services in substance abuse, mental health, healthy lifestyles and basic needs to residents of Rowan County.

“I was a little wary of having it go up because we’re still in a pandemic and I thought our campaign deserved to really hit the $1.5 million this year and hopefully we’ll see some steady growth in years to come,” United Way Executive Director Jenny Lee said.

The theme of this year’s campaign is “Let it come, let it go, then let it flow.” The mantra is both a nod to Behmer’s professional role as the director of Salisbury-Rowan Utilities and a short saying that encompasses what the campaign seeks to accomplish.

“When our community can come together and inspire one another to give their time, money and talents to go to our community needs, then those resources ultimately flow to our neighbors in need and create a thriving community for everyone,” Behmer said.

To achieve its $1.5 million goal, the United Way will split its fundraising efforts into more than a dozen divisions focused on different parts of the community. The leaders of each division announce the progress they’re making toward their individual goals at a series of reporting meetings held throughout the campaign.

On Wednesday, the United Way reported it has already raised $411,929, which means the organization is already 27.5% to its desired final tally.

“I think that this is off to a great start,” Lee said. “With that 27.5%, we’ve got a lot of momentum and I just hope over the course of the next seven weeks or so we can keep it up and I know that we will.”

In response to the pandemic, the United Way adapted its fundraising tactics in 2020 by adding more virtual components. Many of those same strategies, Lee said, are being used once again this year as COVID-19 continues to sicken and kill people in Rowan County.

“For the first time ever, we created electronic pledge forms and car tickets forms so we could reach people that were working at home, or if we can’t have large meetings in a plant, we can send those out through an email blast,” Lee said. 

Two years ago, the United Way made the decision to align donations with the four most pressing needs in Rowan County. Now, the organization has collected data showing what the change in its funding model accomplished.

Addressing the crowd seated in white chairs in front of the Bell Tower, Lee reported the United Way helped its community partners provide services to 87,178 individuals in 2020. 

The United Way’s substance abuse partners helped provide education, counseling and treatment to 1,267 children with substance abuse in their families. Additionally, 15 families were reunited due to free substance abuse treatment, counseling and housing. 

United Way community partners focused on promoting healthy lifestyle behaviors provided education and access to nutritious, affordable food for 7,269 residents.

Community partners specializing in mental health provided free services to 1,269 families with children and helped 4,142 Rowan County residents receive effective family support for mental health and substance use disorders.

The United Way’s community partners dealing with basic needs helped nine families become self-sufficient by increasing their income and provided 54 victims of domestic violence and sexual assault with safe shelter and resources.

Throughout this year’s campaign, Behmer said the United Way will use those statistics and others to show donors the benefits of their dollars.

“As (Lee) mentioned, two years ago we kind of didn’t know who the organizations were going to be,” Behmer said. “The next year we knew the organizations and the programs, just didn’t have the outcomes yet. This year we get to share all of that information.”

Wednesday’s kickoff event was primarily about the campaign, but Lee and other United Way staff members also took a few minutes to recognize Melissa Robbins. Robbins, a Rowan County native, has worked at the United Way for 20 years and currently serves as the organization’s finance and operations director. Robbins was presented with a plaque and bouquet of flowers to celebrate her two decades of service.

The Rowan County United Way, located on the second floor of the Salisbury Post building, is celebrating its own 65th anniversary this year. In those years, the United Way has raised $67.5 million for programs and organizations providing services to Rowan Countians.

The next campaign reporting meeting will be held on Oct. 13 at Team Chevrolet, just a few days after United Way hosts the Into The Light Walk on Oct. 9 at 7:20 a.m. at the Catawba College Shuford Football Stadium. The walk is hosted as a fundraiser for local mental health programs and works to de-stigmatize mental health and suicide.

More information about the United Way campaign and the Into The Light Walk can be found online at rowanunitedway.org.

The United Way’s campaign kickoff was the first big event held in the new downtown park, which will be opened Friday.

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