The United Way of West Georgia kicked off its annual campaign on Wednesday with a goal of $1,050,000.
“It’s a big number and we’ve got our work cut out for us,” said Renae Willis, United Way chairwoman and co-chairman of the campaign, along with Bill Stump. The 2012 goal was $1.125 million.
Willis said the fundraising will take a communitywide effort but “things seem to be turning around” in the local economy.
“We do good things with your money,” she said. “We are local people helping local people.”
The local United Way supports 25 member agencies, many of whom are geared toward helping children. Once again this year, early learning is a major focus of the United Way’s efforts. The annual “Merry Market” is set for 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 25 and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 26.
“If you can address the root cause of problems (education), you can fix almost anything,” Willis said.
The program featured LaGrange native and early learning expert Tweety Jan Yates, a research assistant professor in special education at University of Illinois-Champaign.
“When you start behind, you stay behind,” Yates said.
A survey of recent kindergarten teachers around the country showed only about half the students come in prepared and 16 percent who aren’t ready are “really struggling,” she said. Yates praised the United Way’s Success By 6 program for its efforts to get children ready for school, but also said there needs to be “ready programs,” including ready staff and schools.
Children under the age of 3 have the highest poverty rate in the country, she said.
“To come out successful, every child needs one person in their life who is there for them,” she said. “Every child needs one person who is crazy about them. So many programs in the United Way give that opportunity.”
Yates urged attendees at the kickoff to get involved with those programs, through donations or other support.
“It can’t happen without you,” she said. “The question is, to be involved or not be involved. Through the children’s eyes there is no question.”