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United Way kicks off 2011 campaign

During a year when cuts to state and federal budgets resulted in  reduced funding for charitable groups, the United Way of Mid & South Jefferson County officially kicked off its 2011 campaign Wednesday with a breakfast in Port Arthur.

“It’s more important now than ever when funding from the federal and state level is struggling. We really need to step up locally to help agencies provide services to our neighbors, friends and family,” Janie Johnson, executive director of the local United Way, said.

Set at $1.2 million, the 2011 campaign goal is the same as last year’s.

This year’s campaign chairman, Steve Paterson, publisher of The Port Arthur News, spoke to the group via video from Huntsville.

“The United Way today is more important than it has ever been,” Paterson said. “I hope you will join me in helping to reach out to the community. Let’s make this a banner year.”

Mid  & South County United Way Board President Randy Kimler said the campaign is off to a good start.

“Everybody is very excited so far,” Kimler said. “We’ve already had a couple of companies finish their goals with a little bit more money than what they set for themselves.”

The United Way campaign runs through the end of November. During that time volunteers approach local industry and the business community to provide employees opportunity to make a monetary donation to the drive.

Because those donations often are deducted from employee paychecks for a specified time period, funding comes in all year long.

Those contributions are more than appreciated. Very often the funds make the difference in whether programs are cut.

“Without the United Way contributions there would have been some definite reductions in our services, John Neely, executive director for South East Texas Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse said.

A year ago when the drug abuse agency was notified funding cuts may go as deep as 5 percent, Neely said the agency froze salaries.

But, that wasn’t enough, not when the reductions came in at 17 percent rather than the anticipated 5 percent.

To make up the difference, Neely said he had to cut his own salary and that of all salaried personnel. Reductions to the agency’s treatment program were on the horizon if not for the United Way funding.

A year later, Neely said he is hearing there will be additional budget cuts.

The area alcohol and drug treatment program is not the only group losing funding from the budget ax.

“We’ve heard from several agencies affected by budget cuts, and are just waiting to see what the needs will be,” Johnson said.

The Mid & South Jefferson County United Way currently services 22 agencies in the Golden Triangle including: Boy’s Haven, Boy Scouts of America, UMCA, Family Services-Women & Children’s Shelter, American Red Cross, Hospitality Center, Community Care-Prayer Outreach, Port Cities Rescue Mission, Salvation Army, United Board of Missions, and Capland Speech Therapy Center.

Others served are: Groves Senior Citizens, Hughen Center, Mid-County Senior Citizens, Inc., Port Neches Senior Citizens Center, Nutrition & Services for Seniors, Shorkey Center, South East Texas Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Southeast Texas hospice, Rape & Suicide Crisis Center, and Samaritan Counseling Center.

skoonce@panews.com