published Thursday, March 6th, 2014

United Way surpasses $12 million in 2013 fundraising

The United Way of Greater Chattanooga announced Wednesday that it raised a "record-breaking" $12 million in 2013, a nearly 4 percent increase from 2012's $11.6 million.

Additionally, the United Way recognized clients, companies and volunteers for their efforts to help the organization improve literacy, family stability and aid to the most needy in the Chattanooga area.

"All of our funding goes to different programs and services that help benefit services for families to help them become stable, or children so that they'll be more successful either entering school and when they're in school," said Jamie Bergmann, the vice president of community impact, at United Way's annual meeting.

The impact of the United Way's services in 2013 -- including helping children improve literacy skills through early childhood education centers and skills-based learning programs, as well as helping improve family stability through better education, employment and housing options -- was discussed at the meeting by Tom Decosimo, the 2013 Community Campaign chairman.

"What we do is we act as the tip of the spear to say, 'Here are the things we've got to do to make this city move forward,'" Decosimo said.

Money raised during the 2013 campaign will help the agency continue to achieve its goals, Decosimo said.

And, judging from the annual financial report, money donated to the United Way is well spent, with 83 percent of donations going toward programs and services, and only 13 percent for administration and fundraising efforts in 2012.

The Impact Program award was given to the Bookworm Club of Girls Inc., an after-school, girl-centric literacy skills program. The Bookworm Club worked with 85 elementary school girls from at-risk neighborhoods during the 2012-2013 school year, and helped them achieve increases in recognition of the ABC's, names of numbers, days of the week and months of the year. The program also helped the participating girls read faster and improve word recognition.

Additionally, Gerald Lawson, director of HaCoBA Care, received the Service Volunteer of the Year award for his work to provide more than 10,000 people in Hamilton County with food, using an all-volunteer staff.

While much of the focus of the past year has been on improving literacy and educational opportunities for children, the United Way is also focused on helping provide family stability, which can impact literacy and education.

"If a kid can read by third grade at a third-grade level, that child is probably going to graduate from high school," Decosimo said. "If we can help families be stable, that child's going to be able to read. If we can help families improve their income and get housing and really make sure to help train them to be self-sufficient, we're making a big impact."

Contact staff writer Alex Harris at aharris@timesfreepress.com.

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