United Way aims to help nonprofit partners, clients struggling through pandemic
HATTIESBURG, MISS. – United Way of Southeast Mississippi is kicking off its annual fundraising campaign this week with a goal to inspire hope through unity.
The organization’s campaign is a major fundraising effort involving many local businesses that have partnered with United Way to host various presentations and activities to generate awareness for United Way’s work in the community. Through payroll giving, these corporate partners enable and encourage their employees to make a financial investment in the community through United Way.
“It’s because of these corporate partnerships and the generosity of their employees that we are able to do what we do, which is to help people from all walks of life in the areas of education, economic mobility, health and support services,” said United Way of Southeast Mississippi CEO Tracie Fowler. “The connections established, the donations made through these workplace campaigns allow us to provide funding to our partner nonprofits and help them keep their doors open to the people who need them most, especially during this pandemic.”
This year’s campaign theme is “United, Hope Happens,” which Fowler said fits the times in which we live.
“It’s been a long, hard two years for everyone, but especially for our nonprofit partners and their clients. For some of our nonprofits, their client demand has increased to an overwhelming level, while other nonprofits are afraid they won’t be able to keep their programs going because of the decrease in clients who have been impacted by the pandemic in different ways. We want this year’s campaign to bring them the hope they need – that things will get better because there’s a community of caring, giving people who are willing to financially invest in the lives of others,” she said.
Ann McCullen is the executive director of Edwards Street Fellowship Center, a partner agency of United Way of Southeast Mississippi. United Way provides funding to both the center’s food pantry and free Fellowship Health Clinic. McCullen said that funding has been a consistent lifeline during the pandemic.
“We can count on that money for our budget and that’s huge because our patients are still coming. They still need their medication, they still need to see the physician and have lab tests run. We just were really unsure at the beginning of COVID if anybody would have extra money to donate for our services. People’s hearts may be with us but their pocketbooks can’t always follow,” said McCullen. “When someone donates to the United Way campaign, they are supporting all those agencies at once. They can do it through payroll deduction or through writing a check, but they are able to touch all these different lives in the Greater Hattiesburg area by doing that one gift to United Way.”
Currently, United Way funds 15 local nonprofits, all of which are serving the local community in a variety of ways, such as food assistance, tutoring, counseling, domestic abuse services and much more. Among the local businesses and organizations that help make those donations possible through employee giving are United Way’s Pacesetters - companies that have volunteered to take the lead by committing their organization to a set donation goal. This year’s Pacesetters are Anderson Design Center, the Area Development Partnership, BancorpSouth, Citizens National Bank, Forrest General Hospital, Hancock Whitney, Hattiesburg Clinic, Hood Industries, Mississippi Power, Regions Bank and The First.
“It is astounding to see the change that can occur when an individual, like me, pairs with other supporters to contribute to an organization like United Way of Southeast Mississippi,” said Harlon Aultman, marketing manager at Hattiesburg Clinic.
Aultman, a Poplarville resident who works in Hattiesburg, has been donating through Hattiesburg Clinic’s workplace campaign since the beginning of his employment with the clinic more than 15 years ago. He said it’s a legacy he and his colleagues are proud to be a part of.
“This organization embodies the impact and importance of all contributions, no matter the size, where individuals come together as a team to make a unified difference. As an employee of Hattiesburg Clinic, I enjoy working alongside my coworkers to help meet the various needs in our community. I love the thought that I am just one piece that helps complete the puzzle,” he said.
While United Way sees much of its contributions through workplace campaigns, anyone can donate, even if they’re not an employee of a participating company. Fowler said even the smallest of donations can lead to meaningful change in the communities served by United Way SEMS, which include Forrest, Lamar, Marion and Perry counties.
“We have been doing this work for a long time, and we have seen how when people come together to help others, hope is inevitable. Hope for the people who are being helped and hope for the ones who are doing the helping. And we really see this year’s campaign as sort of a Campaign of Hope, because we need that now more than ever.”
If you or your organization would like to donate to United Way of Southeast Mississippi or organize your own workplace campaign, you can do so at unitedwaysems.org/campaign or by calling 601-475-0216.