Volunteers from Horace Mann insurance and Blue Ridge Bank painting handrails leading to the school playground at Axton Elementary School. (Photos courtesy of the United Way of HCM)

By Kim Barto Meeks

Friday the 13th was a lucky day for several local nonprofit organizations who benefited from service projects as part of the United Way’s Day of Action. 

The annual event kicked off the 2019 fundraising campaign for the United Way of Henry County & Martinsville. This year, 138 volunteers worked on 14 projects at nonprofits and schools throughout the community, logging more than 422 hours of service in one day.

Hooker furniture volunteers completing a beautification project for the Anchor Commission Transition Day Program.
Carter Bank and Trust Volunteers refurbishing a canoe trailer donated for use by the local scouts units. Front right of photo is Dan Cross with the Blue Ridge Mtn. Council – Boy Scouts of America.

“This is a great way to showcase the passion and generosity of the community,” said United Way Executive Director Philip Wenkstern. ”The United Way is a volunteer-led and volunteer-driven organization, and having so many volunteers work on different projects throughout the area really helps demonstrate that mentality.”

Day of Action projects included cleaning up and repainting playground equipment at elementary schools, collecting supplies for residents of local group homes, nature trail maintenance, and doing yard work for senior citizens.

Marlena Jessee (left) with the Boys and Girls Club of the Blue Ridge receives items donated for their United Way Day of Action Drive from Mandy Folman with Southern Area Agency on Aging.

Wenkstern praised participants for going “above and beyond, showcasing what it truly means to LIVE UNITED. There were several organizations that provided not only volunteers, but also the tools necessary to do that work,” he said.

For example, Boxley provided a Bobcat to help move the gravel at the Lee Ford Camp project where their volunteers were working, and the Community Dream Center provided the lawn equipment that Carter Bank & Trust used to do yard work for a local senior in need.

Many local businesses and agencies supplied volunteers, including American National Bank, Bassett High School Beta Club and JROTC, Blue Ridge Bank, Boxley, The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Blue Ridge, Carter Bank & Trust, Eastman, Henry County, Hooker Furniture, Horace Mann Insurance, the city of Martinsville, New College Institute, Patrick Henry Community College, Piedmont Community Services, and Southern Area Agency on Aging.

Boxley and BGCBR Volunteers resurface and smooth out pathways at Lee Ford Camp.

“We truly saw a community joining together to fight for the financial stability, education, and health of every person here,” Wenkstern said.

Before going out into the community on Friday, the United Way rallied supporters at a campaign kick-off breakfast held at the Heritage Conference and Events Center. Beverly Pitzer, 2019-2020 Campaign Chairman for the United Way, announced a fundraising goal of $600,000.

Pitzer noted that pacesetter donors have already raised $232,693, or 39 percent of the 2019 goal. Pacesetter companies this year are American National Bank, Bassett Furniture Industries, Blue Ridge Bank, Carter Bank & Trust, Eastman Chemical, Henry County, Hooker Furniture, and Piedmont Community Services.

Funds raised by the United Way are awarded to local nonprofits through a competitive grant process for programs in its focus areas of education, financial stability and healthy living. A panel of volunteers from the community review the grant applications and make award recommendations to the United Way Board of Directors.

“Our organization strongly feels that since we are raising money from the community, for the community, that the community itself should have a role in determining how those funds are allocated,” said Community Engagement Coordinator Julia Hollandsworth.

This year, 27 local programs received United Way funding through this process.

Many local employers participate in the annual campaign by encouraging employees to donate through payroll contributions. Donors can designate a specific area or program for their donations if they so choose.

BHS Beta Student Volunteers landscape at the Spencer-Penn Center.

Another fundraising avenue is the Leadership Circle, chaired by Jerri and Joe Devault. This is a group of dedicated United Way donors who each pledge at least $600 to the annual United Way campaign.

“In a typical year, the United Way has more than 180 donors in the Leadership Circle, and with the Devaults’ leadership, this year’s campaign is off to a fantastic start,” Wenkstern said.

For more information on the United Way, or to donate, visit www.unitedwayofhcm.org