After months of fundraising through community events and outreach, the United Way of Liberty County has exceeded its 2011 campaign goal of $181,000 by more than $4,000.
"This is just huge," said Jennifer Darsey, director of the Liberty County office of the United Way of the Coastal Empire. "It means we get to give away more money."
Though the campaign officially ended Friday, the group had collected more than $185,026 by Thursday evening.
"We didn’t actually get over the goal until Wednesday," Darsey said. "Even then, it was literally pounding the pavement, asking for donations — but more than that, it was the businesses and community members who came forward to make this happen."
Last year, the organization raised $120,000, about $60,000 short of its $180,000 goal. But the board and staff are insistent that they celebrate their success with humility, Darsey said.
Rather than holding any sort of victory party of their own, members opted to join in on the Friday victory celebration for the entire Coastal Empire.
"We’re very proud, and we’re super excited," she said. "But we want to be very careful with how we use our dollars. … We’ve asked a lot of people during the fundraising campaign, and they’ve really risen to the occasion.
"This community, Liberty County, did an outstanding job in ‘living united’ during this campaign," she said. "I think it shows you have a community of people that want to help in whatever way they can."
Campaign Chairman Anthony Burns said Friday that the entire Coastal Empire made its goal of $8,255,555, and he emphasized that United Way staff and advisers are grateful for the contributions.
"I want to make sure we truly acknowledge and say thank you for all of the contributions made …," he said. "It will go to good use in this community. It will sustain a lot of people, and hopefully it will reverse a lot of situations that people find themselves in."
Burns attributed the campaign’s success to increased awareness for the United Way thanks to its partnerships with the Liberty County Board of Education and Chamber of Commerce.
"We didn’t want to be in a position where we asked anyone to give more," he said. "We just wanted to get more people to give."
All of the money raised in the county will go back to organizations within the county, and Liberty also will receive some additional aid from the Coastal Empire, Darsey said.
Allocating the funds is the next step. In December, the group will begin evaluating 21 applications from local community organizations that wish to receive funding, a process that is open to public involvement.
In the past, the group has offered funds to such groups as St. James Community Center, the YMCA of Coastal Georgia, senior adult daycare, CASA, Helen’s Haven, Rape Crisis and Manna House.
Although the benefactors have yet to be determined, the United Way Liberty Council Advisory Board has identified homelessness and hunger as specific areas of need in the community, Darsey said.
"The Meals on Wheels waiting list is huge, and that is so sad because that is something they shouldn’t be going without," she said.
The agency also has pinpointed a gap in financial counseling services and anticipates providing funds to entities that help others claim economic independence, Darsey said.
To determine the allocations, the board and volunteers will interview applicants and conduct site visits in what she calls a "thorough process." While the Chatham office determines allocations for the Bryan and Effingham offices, Liberty County representatives will determine their own disbursements.
Those who wish to be a part of the allocation process must be able to attend a daylong training session Nov. 29 and make some site visitations during business hours, Darsey said, adding that it’s beneficial to open the process to the community.
"It would be nice to have the community-wide perspective, because other perspectives and ideas are paramount to be able to really say we’re meeting the needs of the community," she said.
By January, the group should know which organizations will receive funds, and by the end of February, the amounts should be determined, she said.
Those who wish to volunteer for the allocation process should call the Liberty County United Way office at 368-4282 before Nov. 29.