Leaders see future for United Way

Officials plan to resurrect fundraising organization
Dec. 15, 2012 @ 11:57 PM

The United Way of Sevier County will be back in 2013.

The organization’s future has been unclear since earlier this year, when the board of directors announced they were resigning and the group would cease operating at the end of the year unless new funding could be found. Executive Director Tom Newman also stepped down earlier in the year.

United Way provided funds to 19 nonprofit agencies in the county, including the Boys and Girls Club of the Smoky Mountains, Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center and Sevier County Children’s Shelter. But the directors said they were no longer getting enough funding to make promised payments to those groups, and they decided it was best to cease operating than fail to provide money on which the groups counted.

As one of their last acts, they named County Mayor Larry Waters, the mayors of the four cities in the county and Allen Newton, director of the Economic Development Council, as a new board. They said they hoped the local leaders would find a way to save the organization, and the officials said they would look into it.

Newton said they are committed to doing that, and hope to begin a new round of fundraising next year.

“We haven’t had a meeting yet but we are looking to reorganize so we can have a 2013 campaign,” Newton said.

The local officials have been discussing the idea for some time, he said, and they decided it was important to keep working to get the United Way back on track. "All the cities and the county have a vested interest in seeing the county be the best it can be," he said.

“For all the good it does, we just want to see that it continues."

It isn’t clear yet what those efforts will mean for the organizations that counted on the United Way.

The money left for allocations runs out at the end of the month, and what’s left is being used for operating expenses, including retaining the administrative assistant who still works at their office in Gatlinburg.

But Newton said he has been talking to some of the groups to let them know the county would be working to resurrect the United Way.

“I’ve only talked to a couple and certainly they are excited the United Way is going to continue.”

Mark Ross, director of the Boys and Girls Club of the Smoky Mountains, said it would be welcome news if the officials can restart the United Way, but his organization prepared its budget with the notion that it wouldn’t be getting money from the agency.

“For planning purposes they have to be a zero because I don’t know what’s going on,” he said. The Boys and Girls Club starts its fiscal year in January, he said.

So far, the reduced funds haven’t forced any cuts in his organization. While the $20,000 the United Way gave the Boys and Girl Clubs was one of the largest total sums the agency gave to any organization, it was a small percentage of the total budget for the organization, he explained.

It won’t be clear how much the impact will be felt in next year’s campaign until they start holding fundraisers, he said. Their revenues increased in 2012 over the mark they hit in 2011, he said, so they have cause to be optimistic.