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      United Way celebrates biggest campaign ever

      United Way held a conference Thursday to announce which community organizations are receiving allocations from the 2011 campaign.

      Among those on the list are Family Support Services, YMCA, American Red Cross,The Salvation Army, Big Brothers Big Sisters and The Bridge Children's Advocacy Center. United Way Executive Director Frankie Francel said a lot of thought goes into which organizations receive the money.

      "Where will it impact our community in the most significant way? And we have over 60 volunteers that study proposals- a long proposal over 20 pages- go out and visit every program- not every agency, every program- and actually do a Q&A session with their board and their staff."

      Last year's campaign raised $5.8 million thanks to the help of more than 1,500 volunteers. That is an eight percent increase from the year prior.

      "We continually try to get better every year, whatever it is," Volunteer and Community Impact Co-Vice Chairman Johnny Mize stated. "We raise the bar. We raise the bar on ourselves just as we ask our program providers to raise the bar on themselves. And, so, we just think that's just part of growth and as we continue to grow we think it'll all make us better for it."

      United Way is taking a new initiative with some of the allocations: children in kindergarten through 5th grade will now have access to education on team skills, literacy skills and conflict resolution. Students in low-income communities will also be helped to develop a better focus on higher education. And this is possible because more than 99 cents of every dollar raised stays local.

      "That's a wonderful feeling to know that you're a part of a community that is so giving," Mize said, "but also to be a part of the United Way that has been very successful and proven in their stringent ways that they allocate the money so it's used in the most cost-effective manner."

      United Way has been around for more than 88 years, and it seems volunteers bring more to the table come every campaign. Mize said his road lead to the non-profit organization, and he recommended anyone with a love for the community dedicate some of their time to the cause.

      "Anyone should challenge themselves to see where they can make the most difference. And I found that United Way is the place for me."