United Way struggles to reach fund goal

Jeff Harris, Loudon County Court Appointed Special Advocates board chairman and Loudon mayor, flips through CASA informational material.

United Way of Loudon County continues to struggle to reach a $450,000 campaign goal.

With the campaign ending March 31, Judy Fenton, local executive director, is not optimistic. She expects the final tally will be about $400,000.

The largest donors this year are Kimberly-Clark, Tate & Lyle, Tellico Village, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Consolidated Nuclear Services.

In a year without COVID-19, the campaign would be somewhere between $400,000-$425,000 at this point, Fenton said.

“The largest, of course, the main impact, will be on the money that we grant out to our partner nonprofits, our partner agencies,” Fenton said. “… We have around 26 partner agencies. People like the Good Samaritan (Center of Loudon County), the (Kids First) Child Advocacy Center, Loudon County Education Foundation, just to name a few.”

Loudon County Court Appointed Special Advocates receives money from United Way and other fundraisers to cover volunteer training and basic expenses, Heather Francis, local CASA executive director, said.

“We train and recruit citizen volunteers, who I would probably align to guardian angels to children who, by no fault of their own, are a victim of abuse or neglect, and they’re in this really scary place of court,” Francis said.

Volunteers take care of school duties and needs, report safety concerns present in homes and are a voice for the child. They also advocate for a child’s mental health needs as well as facilitate transportation.

The Tellico Village Computer Users Club Technology Access Program also receives United Way dollars. While TAP serves Loudon County students, the organization’s reach has gone as far as Kentucky.

“It is a part of the club where we take donated computers and refurbish them and give them to — through the schools or social service agencies — to students that can’t afford a computer and don’t have one in their home,” Vince Alline, board member and TAP co-chairman, said.

TAP uses the funds to purchase components necessary for refurbishing computers and printers, he said.

Cheri Parrish, United Way board chairwoman, said the slowdown in donations and commitments was expected with COVID-19 impacting all industries and businesses.

“If you have a lower amount of donations coming in, then you can’t give out as much allocations on grants and that sort of thing each year,” Parrish said. “You kind of have to wait until the donations come in to actively look at grant opportunities that have been submitted. We haven’t gotten to that point yet.

“Obviously, we want to be able to uphold what our commitments have been in the past if that’s what was submitted to us,” she added. “That’s ultimately what the goal would be is to be able to continue to supplant those grants as we’ve done in the past, and United Way donations have always been very faithful in our county. It’s the good, bad and the ugly right now with how COVID is unfortunately affecting some people that have always traditionally given.”

Ruth McQueen, United Way executive advisory committee member, is encouraged by donations despite the current state of the economy and challenges posed by the pandemic.

“I think United Way, particularly in these days, is such a wonderful resource for Loudon County and has helped with education and health and basic needs and financial stability,” McQueen said. “I don’t know that there’s ever been a time that I have lived where we need the programs and the agencies who work through United Way more than we do now.”

Mail donations to P.O. Box 145, Lenoir City, 37771, or donate online at https://www.united wayloudoncounty.org/donate.php.