Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 4, 2013

United Way launches annual campaign

John Cannon
The Independent

ASHLAND — Autumn is a time when the leaves change into colors of red, orange and yellow, the days and nights become cooler, children dressed in costumes go door to door in search of candy at Halloween, thousands of fans cheer on their favorite high school and college football games and the United Way of Northeast Kentucky conducts its annual fundraising campaign to support more than 60 nonprofit agencies in Boyd, Greenup, Carter, Lawrence and Elliott counties.

Officially, the United Way campaign began Tuesday and continues until the end of December. Unofficially, it started before the first of October in a few area companies and it will not end until all the in-house campaigns by participating employers in the five counties have been completed. That often is not until the middle of February and sometimes even later.

The goal for this year is $750,000, the same amount as the goal for the 2012 campaign, and Jerri Compton, the new executive director for the United Way of Northeast Kentucky, hopes her first campaign continues the record of  the United Way campaign annually achieving its goal established during the 14 years the United Way was headed by former executive director Steve Towler.

Towler announced  he was stepping down as executive director soon after the 2012 campaign ended in February of this year, but he stayed on to help Compton get acquainted with her new job after she was named Towler’s successor in early April. Towler is running for Boyd County judge-executive.

But Compton is not the only new face in the office of the United Way on Carter Avenue. Erica Berry succeeded Marlena Ross as the assistant director of the United Way in the five counties in July. Ross, the former director of the United Way of Greenup County, became assistant director of the United Way of Boyd and Greenup Counties when the two United Ways became one soon after Towler became executive director in 1999. She stayed on as assistant director as Carter, Lawrence and Elliott counties joined Boyd and Greenup to form the United Way of Northeast Kentucky.

Thus, the 2013 campaign begins with both United Way employees being new. Like Compton, Berry spent a number of years working in the health care field, and first learned about the United Way while helping with the campaign as an employee of Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital.

While Berry and she are both new to the United Way staff, Compton said there will not be major changes in the annual campaign.

“It’s not broken so we don’t need to fix anything,” she said. “Anything we do that’s different, probably will not even be noticed by most people.”

Calgon Carbon started its in-house campaign early, and as the fifth largest giver in the 2012 campaign, she expects the results of the Calgon campaign will inspire other companies and their employees to match or surpass what Calgon does.

Marathon’s Catlettsburg Refinery, the top giver in the 2012 campaign, already had its annual golf tournament, which is always a major fundraiser for the United Way, and employees of Calgon and Marathon will face each other in a corn hole tournament later this month to raise funds for the United Way. Calgon managers said the carbon plant’s employees are very competitive and love to play games, and the corn hole tournament evolved from that conversation.

“It’s a way to have some fun and enjoy some fellowship with workers from another company while raising money for the United Way.” Compton said.

King’s Daughters Medical Center was the second-largest giver in the 2012 campaign, followed by AK Steel at No. 3. In fact, giving at AK Steel topped $100,000 for the first time, Compton said. Representatives of both management and organized labor at AK serve on the United Way’s board.

The 2013 campaign officially began with the United Way offering tours of United Way agencies for those who chair the campaigns for local employers. This year the tours included stops at the Shelter of Hope and the Salvation Army and the five agencies in The Neighborhood: River Cities Harvest, the Community Kitchen, CAReS, the Dressing Room and Clean Start.

The tours are intended to better inform United Way volunteers about what agencies receiving funds do and hopefully tell those they work with about the agencies and inspire them to give generously to the United Way.

Sixty-six took part in one of the three tours this fall, Compton said, and they had a lot of excellent questions for the agencies.

Compton said she would like to see more giving by employees of area school systems and by employees of local governments. She also would like to see more giving from individuals.

“We have never had a Toqueville Society giver which the United Way nationally awards to those individuals who donate $10,000 to the United Way,” Compton said. “That would be really something if we did have someone give that much.”

Kipp Barker is chairman of the 2013 United Way campaign, and for the most part, Compton and Berry see their role as facilitators of the campaign.

“We let individual employers decide how they want to conduct their campaigns,” Compton said. This is their campaign, not ours. But if they want our help, we have a wealth of ideas of what to do and many materials to help them.”

And if Compton and Berry have any questions or problems, they know Towler and Ross are just a phone call away.

“We would be foolish not to tap into their wealth of information,” Berry said. “They have both been wonderful.”

JOHN CANNON can be reached at

jcannon@dailyindependent.com or at (606) 326-2649.