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United Way aims to meet goal in troubled economy
Event features stories of people who've seen agencies at work
LeeAnn Nixon speaks about her son at the United Way of Hall County Kickoff Breakfast. - photo by Tom Reed

The United Way of Hall County has lowered its fundraising goal this year because of the economy but is optimistic it can do OK — maybe even surpass the goal — as the economy improves.

The nonprofit organization announced Thursday it hopes to raise $1.87 million, "a goal we know will become a reality" because of the generosity of Hall residents, said Kelly Lee, 2009 campaign chairwoman.

Also, as part of a campaign kickoff at the Gainesville Civic Center, she announced that $460,816 of that amount already has been raised through a summer "cornerstone" campaign at area companies.

The goal was $430,500 for the companies, which, according to the event program, "have built momentum and set the pace for the fall campaign."

The volunteer-based organization’s 2008 goal was about $2 million.

It was reduced this year mainly because of the economic downturn and fewer jobs at area companies, said Jack Keener, 2009 United Way board chairman, in an interview after the one-hour event.

He said he is hopeful that, as the economy improves, employers will start hiring again and "we’ll find new givers."

"Hopefully, we’ll surpass the goal," said Keener, who works in commercial lending at United Community Bank.

He said he was encouraged by the cornerstone numbers.

"We’re hoping that’s a good sign for (the main campaign). It’s going to be interesting this year."

He told the large crowd gathered for the event, "This is going to be a difficult year for us, but we welcome the challenge."

"We want everyone ... to carry the ball, and we know that, with the kind of spirit and attitude that resides in Hall County, we can do anything," Keener said.

Thursday’s ceremony featured testimonies from people who have seen nonprofit agencies and programs in action.

"Giving just a little bit sometimes means more than giving a lot," said LeeAnn Nixon, a Hall County teacher, who told a story about her son coping with autism.

She talked about her son’s love of football and the glee he experienced over the time he got to move from offensive line to running back. He was stopped cold at the line, but it didn’t matter — he got a chance to carry the ball.

"I want to challenge you to be like Nick this year. See if you can just be happy carrying the ball. You don’t have to score a touchdown," said Nixon, who teaches at Wauka Mountain Elementary School in North Hall.

"You just need to do what you feel in your heart would make the biggest impact on somebody’s life in a positive way."

Others sharing their stories at the event were Hall County prosecutor Lindsay Burton; Davis White, FullMedia president and community volunteer; and Johnson High School ninth-grader Ariel Collins, who attended the Summer Scholars Institute at Gainesville State College.

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