Exactly one month to the day after community advocate Connie Burns died unexpectedly at the age of 43, the United Way of Effingham County dedicated its 2013 fundraising campaign to her.
“If you had the privilege to know Connie, you would agree that she lived her life to its fullest. She truly enjoyed every moment of every day,” campaign vice chair John Kieffer said at Wednesday’s kickoff luncheon at the Effingham College and Career Academy.
With a photo of Burns projected on the wall behind him, Kieffer encouraged the packed house of United Way supporters to follow her lead and give back to the community.
“We believe her light has not been extinguished because we have many beautiful, unforgettable memories of her,” he said. “She is in a place that is so bright, so warm, so loving and so cheerful. She has received her reward.”
Burns was involved in a number of community efforts, but had been on the Effingham United Way board only since March. However, she made a big impact in a short time.
A video shown at the campaign kickoff told the story of Ed Young, a military veteran who was out of work and facing foreclosure on his home. He, his wife and their four children were in danger of losing everything.
Without a car, Young walked door-to-door, asking to wash people’s cars. The money he made paid his cell phone bill so he could continue looking for a job.
When Burns learned of Young’s situation, she connected him with a Georgia-Pacific subcontractor looking for heavy equipment operators. Young had experience doing that in the Army, and he got the job on the spot.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in our office that afternoon. It was unbelievable,” said United Way Effingham Area Director Bonnie Dixon.
“(Thanks to) people with hearts like this, now I can give back to people less fortunate than I am,” Young said in the video.
Sam McCachern, the chairman of this year’s United Way of the Coastal Empire campaign, shared a conversation he had with Burns shortly before her death. He told her that this year’s campaign video would spotlight Young’s story.
“Her only comment was, she was only the messenger,” McCachern said. “(She said) she was just a neighbor who helped a neighbor who needed some help. I think that tells a lot about what we’re doing today.”
Dressed as “secret agents” to promote this year’s campaign theme of “Mission: Possible,” United Way board members and volunteers unveiled this year’s fundraising goal – $302,007, the highest ever for Effingham County.
The Effingham campaign is part of this year’s $8.7 million fundraising goal for the United Way of the Coastal Empire, which serves Effingham, Chatham, Bryan and Liberty counties. Programs through the Effingham Service Center include local food pantries, a clothing closet, the first-time home buyers program, and the new Center for Working Families.
“We’re confident the community will once again support us,” Dixon said. “The community believes in us. They see the outcomes we have. They know we are committed to making Effingham County stronger and a better place for our families.”
The campaign is off to a strong start, thanks to three corporate “pacesetters” that conducted their United Way campaigns prior to the official kickoff. With pledges of $16,853 from Georgia Power, $17,481 from Effingham Health System and a whopping $81,000 from Effingham County Schools, the Effingham campaign is already 38 percent of the way toward its goal.
“That’s unheard of. It is above and beyond,” Dixon said of the school district’s pledge.
“They see the needs because of the students they work with,” Dixon continued. “We get so many referrals and calls from teachers and counselors and principals telling us, ‘We have a family and this is their situation. What can we do to help them?’”
The Effingham College and Career Academy was recognized with the Caring Cup Award as the school with the highest per-capita contribution, $131 per staff member.
For the second year in a row, Effingham County High School received the Chairman’s Award as the school that increased its contribution the most from the previous year. This year’s pledge from ECHS is $10,939.
“It’s all about the faculty and the staff and their commitment to our community. They always put service above themselves,” said ECHS principal Yancy Ford.
The United Way campaign runs through Nov. 16.
For more information about the United Way campaign, call the Effingham Service Center at 826-5300 or visit www.uwce.org.