The 2014 United Way of the Coastal Empire’s campaign kickoff in Bryan County ended with host Dave Kartunen telling the approximately 200 people in attendance reasons not to give between now and when fundraising ends in November.
"If you can predict where the next natural disaster is going to be, don’t give," said Kartunen, a morning anchor for WSAV-TV. "If you think you will go through life without having a child who has autism, don’t give."
He looked around the room at the Richmond Hill City Center at an audience that included a number of business, civic, government and school leaders along with those who run United Way programs.
"If you know who the next rape victim will be, don’t give. We don’t need your support, if that’s the case."
But in the next sentence, the reporter and United Way volunteer explained why he supports the agency, which helps provide services for those in need in Bryan, Chatham, Effingham and Liberty counties.
"The thing that I love about the United Way, and you saw it in the videos, you see it in the faces in this room and you see it in the programs they support," Kartunen said. "It touches every life in this room and we don’t know who that next life it will touch is. Young and old, black and white … it supports everyone in every state of life."
Kartunen wasn’t the only one to speak Tuesday, as local United Way officials announced Bryan County’s goal of $75,000. Caitlyn Young, who is chairing the Bryan Advisory Board, dressed up as Wonder Woman to help spread the United Way message.
"We are working wonders in Bryan County," she said. "Every day, we encounter people here who are hungry, homeless, who have lost their job and are having trouble making ends meet. (We encounter) people who have family members who have experienced medical emergencies, and you never know when that’s going to happen."
It could be anybody, Young said.
"The need is great, especially in these times. We all need help sometimes," she added, then read a note from someone who benefited from the program.
"When my sister became ill unexpectedly, United Way stepped in and helped our family right when they needed it," Young read. "My sister suffered two aneurysms in her brain and one burst leaving her needing emergency surgery. That left me taking care of her four children, ages 15, 14, 12 and 9. I was working full time and trying to care for her four children full time along with my 2-year-old daughter. My bills were falling behind."
Local United Way director Kristi Cox and the Bryan County office stepped in to help "when I felt my back was against the wall," the note said. "I’m grateful for all you have done, all you are doing and all that you will do."
Also speaking at the event were retired U.S. Army Col. Leroy "Zke" Zimmerman and Team Impact’s Cesar Arocha, a Richmond Hill body builder. The two have teamed up to help kids be successful.
Zimmerman, who was wounded in Vietnam and has gone on to become an educator and volunteer, and his wife have one son and 21 adopted children. Arocha and his wife Mary have eight kids.
"Our goal is to take as many kids as we can and make them fully prepared to work productively in whatever environment they are raised in," Zimmerman said. "And see them developed as young people who one day go on, if they are destined to do so, to the highest level of education they can acquire. So that the end product is, wherever their purpose leads them, to be productive citizens in the society in which they live. That is our dream."
Arocha, who thanked BoE Chairman Eddie Warren "for allowing me to come in your schools and tear up phone books," is the "drill sergeant" of the team, he said.
"Since 2006 I have traveled all over the U.S., I’ve gone overseas and I’ve spoken to millions and millions of kids," said Arocha, who started by tearing up a phone book. "I use my God-given ability, my strength."
The goal is to give kids confidence in themselves, he said, because, "if they believe in themselves, they can accomplish whatever they want to accomplish."
In all, the United Way of the Coastal Empire hopes to raise $8,888,888 by November.
For more information about United Way programs in Bryan County and the Coastal Empire, call 211 or 912-651-7730.