United Way leaders and representatives of the 22 area health and human services organizations the campaign supports got the ball rolling Thursday at their annual kickoff luncheon at Rotary Park.
With a meal catered and donated by Firehouse Restaurant, the kickoff picnic was open to the public for the first time this year. United Way Board Chairman Dr. Keith Johnson took the opportunity to encourage those in attendance who were new to the United Way and the work of its partner agencies to take a tour.
“This is a great opportunity to visit the agencies the United Way supports and for those who want to see, there is a beautiful bus to take you,” he said, referencing the new 14-passenger minibus parked outside the gate of park that was donated to the United Way earlier this year by Atmos Energy.
Johnson said in his own visits to the agencies he has had a front-row seat and was much impressed by to the impact the agencies make on a section of the community’s children, youth, adults and seniors. “I’m proud of the (campaign) team we have that is going to be pushing for participation so that we meet our goals,” he said.
In addition to providing the meal for the kickoff, Firehouse owner Tom Seaton presented the 2019 campaign team with one of their first corporate contributions — a $2,000 donation that Seaton said upped the restaurant’s past campaign giving as a way of making the United Way and the community a part of this year’s celebration of the restaurant’s 40th year of doing business.
Campaign Chairwoman Jennifer Owen, a banking executive and mother of two toddlers, told the team giving back to the community is an opportunity of which there are many in the local region.
“If you showed up here today you are one of the fighters who want to make the community better,” she said. “East Tennessee knows how to take care of each other. The campaign theme, (“A New Year, A New United Way”) is to make people aware of it.”
Much like the holiday “elf on a shelf,” Owen said Wishmore, the campaign mascot who “wishes more for the community,” will be a key figure in keeping the campaign and the service agencies it supports in the public eye.
“He’s here to bring attention to what is happening in the campaign, in agency visits and in social media where he’s already gotten more than 2,000 likes.” As the campaign team works to engage other givers, Owen said, we will be super busy on social media. She closed her kickoff remarks by asking the team members to “take a picture today and post it on Facebook.”
Thursday’s kickoff also included the unveiling of the United Way’s 2019 limited edition campaign print, a depiction of the Appalachian Fair by artist Freddie Lee Young to be presented to every contributor of a gift of $1,000 or more.