United Way reforming: New board chosen, director coming in spring

Mar. 02, 2013 @ 10:38 AM

 Don’t call it a comeback. They’ve been here for years.

The United Way directors didn’t actually borrow lines from LL Cool J when they met with stakeholders this week to introduce new members of the board of directors and outline plans. The message: While its fundraising efforts went on hiatus for a time, the agency never lost its standing with the national organization and didn’t cease operations entirely.

When the previous board stepped down en masse last year, it handed the role over to the executives at the heads of the city and county governments, along with Allen Newton, executive director of the Sevier County Economic Development Council. After reviewing the finances of the group and talking to other local leaders, that group’s members made plans to revive the organization. A meeting on Wednesday was their chance to present their plans to the organizations served by United Way.

“We couldn’t let this thing go,” Newton said. “It’s just so important to us.”

In addition to Newton and the city leaders, the new directors include Earl and Margit Worsham, Ryan DeSear, Mike Comer, R.B. Summitt, and Bob Beldyk. They are still looking for a few additional members to round the group out.

They plan to rebuild the organization along the lines followed around the middle of last decade, when it was at its height and contributions neared $1 million — they’ll have chairmen for each city and try to also have chairs from different interests in that area, such as lawyers and bankers, Newton said.

And they hope to see to it that all contributions to the United Way go to the charities and not paying expenses for the agency. To that end they are starting — or restarting — an Alexis de Tocqueville Society. It holds separate fundraisers to pay the salaries and operating expenses for the United Way.

They have come up with a new job description for an executive director, and hope to fill the post this spring, he said.

And they hope to have a fundraiser this year as well. They will announce a campaign chair after they’ve rounded out the board of directors.

It was welcome news for the agencies that sent representatives to the morning meeting, including the Boys & Girls Club of the Smoky Mountains, Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Clinic, Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center, the Seymour Volunteer Fire Department and others that received money through United Way.

New board members said they believe the previous members had done a good job, but might have strayed some from their purpose of raising funds as a result of their once great success.

When the recession hit last decade, much of those gifts dried up, but the new directors said they believe they can raise funds that can help the groups, even if it doesn’t reach the levels seen before the recession.

Answering a question from the audience, they also said the group never lost its standing with the United Way.

“Our United Way has never been unrecognized,” Newton said. “It’s never gone away.”

In short, while it had a hiatus, the United Way didn’t cease operating. The board chairman, Sevierville City Manager Russell Treadway, said he hopes that’s the message people take from the meeting.

“I hope what we’ve conveyed is, the United Way is alive and well in Sevier County,” Treadway said.

— jfarrell@themountainpress.com