United Way contributors recognized for record year

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  • | 12:00 p.m. February 8, 2008
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by David Chapman

Staff Writer

They rocked, they rolled, they gave.

The United Way held a block party at the Florida Theatre Thursday night to unveil its 2007 campaign grand total and recognize its contributors.

“It’s a community celebration and a major accomplishment for everyone,” said Connie Hodges, president and CEO of United Way of Northeast Florida. “It’s really exciting to see so many members of the community come together.”

In the spirit of the rock ‘n’ roll theme, eight Elvis impersonators assisted the unveiling effort by lining up on stage to juke and jive before flicking their capes to reveal one number of the total each. In the end, they showed $26,152,688, which represented a 4.6 percent increase from the 2006 campaign total of $26,102,672.

“I’ve had a lot of fun,” said 2007 campaign chair Ron Autrey, who’s also Chairman of the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce. “It’s been an honor to lead this year’s campaign effort and I’m proud of the success we have had.”

The Community Care Challenge, a matching gift program that launched in 2003, has also helped the organization reach new levels of fundraising success. The program is designed to inspire individuals to become leadership givers (gifts of $1,000 or more) and to boost corporate giving by matching corporate success. Sponsors of the program included Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, Coggin Automotive Group, Regency Centers, The Haskell Company and Baptist Health.

The success of the entire campaign, Autrey said, was due to the many business partners and volunteers who helped contribute. Many of those companies and individuals were recognized during an awards ceremony inside the theater before the final campaign total was unveiled.

“This was really a great opportunity for non-profits and businesses to get together and celebrate,” said Jack Morgan, chief executive officer of the Northeast Florida Chapter of the American Red Cross. “They really do change lives.”

Some local officials who are involved in the United Way made an appearance at the celebration.

“The things they (United Way) do for children are great,” said City Council member Don Redman, who said he has been involved in the organization for 12 years. “Especially full service schools, which I’m proud of.”

The next campaign will start in the summer with new chair Marty Lanahan, executive vice president of Regions Bank. No goal has been established, but Autrey is optimistic that 2008 will be another productive year for the United Way of Northeast Florida.

“I’m not really a doom and gloom market kind of guy,” said Autrey. “I’m very optimistic about next year’s campaign and I think we’ll exceed expectations again.”

For one night, though, volunteers and contributors lined the streets in celebration of their efforts in 2007 with food, drink and music from Diggin’ in Rhythm & Bass.

Even in the midst of the celebration, though, Hodges was looking forward to the challenges and opportunities of 2008.

“We’re going to do some new things and we’re always looking for new partnerships,” she said.

For more information about the United Way, call 390-3200 or go to www.aboutunitedway.org.