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United Way launches 2018-19 campaign

By Ken Stickney


Some 65 United Way of Mid & South County enthusiasts launched the agency’s 2018-19 United Way fund-raising campaign Friday, intent on serving people during a rebound year for this community.

“It’s my first time being involved,” said new United Way board member Kelvin Alvarenga, a banker for BBVA Compass Bank in Port Neches. “It’s exciting. Anytime there is a natural disaster and adversity, people here stand up more. It will be no different this time. I expect a great success.”

United Way CEO Janie Johnson set no benchmark for the campaign. Last year, the United Way office raised more than $1.5 million in an informal campaign when the community responded enthusiastically in the wake of Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey, which flooded the United Way out of its office and into a trailer for headquarters.

Steven Andrews, United Way vice president and an executive with Golden Pass LNG, served as emcee for Friday’s luncheon at the Carl A. Parker Multipurpose Center at Lamar State College Port Arthur. He recalled United Way’s myriad challenges in 2017-18, when 80 percent of the city of Port Arthur was flooded.

“The United Way was not spared from damage; in fact, we had 31/2 feet of flooding in the office,” he said. “We had roof damage and lightning hit the roof.”

But the office staff was undeterred. He said they set up operations on folding chairs and tables in front of their office building and moved into a 360-square-foot trailer for most of the year.

“Shortly after Harvey, Janie called and said ‘The good news is we’re going to have a meeting. The bad thing is, you’re going to have to bring your own chair.’”

Andrews quipped he “liked to think of it as BYOC.”

Nonetheless, he said, people responded to United Way’s efforts — there was never a formal campaign launch last year — and the agency secured 150,000 pounds of supplies as well as substantial contributions through the United Way network.

Local fund-raising efforts were buoyed by Valero Refinery’s unprecedented company campaign that cleared $1 million, the first-ever million campaign by a single company in the United Way of Mid & South County’s history.

That type of effort helped member agencies like Boys Haven of America operate, executive director George Hartsfield said.

“We depend on UW contributions for part of our budget, he said. “It’s expensive to run a group home.”

Barbara Phillips, spokeswoman for Valero, said the refinery launched its 2018-19 efforts with a fishing tournament in June. She said early results are promising.

“Our employees are so generous with the resources and their time,” she said. “They recognize the need and have educated themselves about the agencies. It’s a really big deal to them.”