Volunteers, advocates, donors and general supporters of United Way of Bradley County can rest assured in the knowledge their time, words and money accomplished much in the lives of local residents over the past year.
CEO and executive director Matt Ryerson reminded guests at Thursday night’s annual meeting the achievements are a direct result of the community’s hard work.
“Our theme for this season was ‘Because of You,’ and you are heroes. It is because of you we are able to accomplish all we accomplish,” Ryerson said. “It is because of you that we do the things we do. It is because of you we have kids who have talents that we can utilize to put on performances.”
Board members decided to bolster the good work with a challenge to raise last year’s financial goal by more than 6 percent.
It was, as Ryerson described, a very ambitious goal. A total of $2,075,000 would have to be raised in a year.
The local nonprofit leader said it took the efforts of everyday supporters like Louise Mills, who started giving to United Way more than 50 years ago, 2013 board chair Art Rhodes and campaign co-chairs Don Lorton and Dr. Rodney Fitzgerald.
Hours of work by a dedicated team of volunteers and staff allowed Ryerson to announce the goal had been met with $2,075,869 — just over 6 percent.
So why is this all important?
“It is important because it has an impact. It does great things in the community,” Ryerson said. “It shifts the culture in how we serve and who we serve.”
He said the amount of money raised is an anomaly among nonprofits in a time when most organizations are down.
A portion of the success was attributed to Art Rhodes who humbly shrugged off the commendations.
According to Ryerson, Rhodes assumed the position of board chair when the then chair moved out of town a third of the way through the year.
The outgoing board chair described the switch from vice chair to chair as being “thrown into the fire” in the middle of the campaign.
He then shifted the recognition to campaign co-chairs Lorton and Fitzgerald.
Quipped Rhodes, “Those gentlemen worked me like a slave.”
He said you never want campaign chairs that don’t have a job.
“They ain’t got nothing else to do,” Rhodes said to much laughter. “I am trying to make a living and they are wanting to have meetings.”
He took a moment to recognize the staff at the United Way, naming them one by one. It was important to him the gathered guests knew the names of those who worked tirelessly behind the scenes. Rhodes described the staff, volunteers and board members as leaders beyond leaders.
“I have heard the story told that a good leader is a person who is about to be run out of town, gets out in front of the town and looks like he is leading a parade,” Rhodes said. “I hope that I am not about to get run out of town, but I have certainly been leading an incredible parade this last nine or so months that I really had very little to do with.”
“Our community has made a difference, so I thank you for all you have done.”
Ryerson presented Rhodes with half of a plaque to reflect his little more than half a year serving as chair, the now traditional bobblehead of the honoree and a plaque inscribed with a quote from Mr. Rogers that reads, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It is easy to say it is not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem. Then there are those who see the need, and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”
Tanya Mazzolini accepted the passing of the gavel from Rhodes to become the 2014 board chair.
She said what she loves about the United Way is that it “truly” embodies the idea anyone can save someone’s life.
She said the average donor gives roughly $6 a week. This means it is not a small amount of people giving a lot. She pointed out it is a large amount of people collectively and continuously giving a little.
The money donated to United Way accomplished much, especially in 2013.
According to a list presented by Ryerson earlier in the evening, seven accomplishments stood out over the course of the year.
- Established Impact Cleveland in an effort to respond to the need in neighborhoods for complete revitalization.
- Launched an online volunteer service, Volunteer Ocoee, to connect local residents with community service opportunities.
- Utilized AmeriCorp’s Volunteers in Service to America to further reach the needs of the Bradley County and Cleveland community.
- Built the Learning Trail through a partnership with the city of Cleveland and People for Care and Learning.
- Re-engaged Polk County in an effort to recommit to meeting the needs of its residents.
- Was awarded four stars on Charity Navigator for the second year in a row.
- Established Karis Dental Clinic in partnership with local agencies like the Bradley County Health Department and The Caring Place.
A start-up donation in honor of Bob and Mildred Easterly by their children Jack, Jane and Bob Easterly, as well as Phyllis Callaway, sparked an idea which would became the United Way of Bradley County Legacy Society. Additional legacies, like the Bob and Mildred Easterly fund, may now be established in memory of loved ones. The money will be used for years to positively impact the local community.
Mazzolini challenged the supporters of United Way to behave like heroes in 2014.
“As we move into the new year, I continue to be captivated by the idea that anyone can make a difference,” Mazzolini said. “That anyone can change someone’s life.”
She asked the crowd what superpower they wanted as children.
“You are a hero to someone and you do have a power: to give, to advocate and to empower,” Mazzolini said. “The real question is how will you use your superpower?”
Added Mazzolini, “As we look forward to the upcoming year, I would like to encourage you to jump in with both feet, because we need each other.”