JACKSON — Carol J. Burger has seen the United Way from every angle possible. She is the current president and chief executive officer of the United Way of the Capital Area. And the Carson native began her affiliation with the United Way as a volunteer. But perhaps the most profound impact the United Way has left on her was when she was a near-helpless recipient of its assistance.
“I was already with the United Way, so I had a great job,” Burger related. “Then, I became deathly ill. I was in intensive care for 35 days with a one in 10 chance of survival. When I did recover, I had to be totally rehabilitated. I couldn’t even walk. And guess where I got the rehab — at the YMCA, one of United Way’s Agency Partners.
“I try to stress to people that you never know if and when you might need our services. A lot of people think, ‘I’ve got a good job. I’m not destitute. I’ll never need the United Way.’ But I am living proof that you don’t have to be poor to need our services. We’re like an insurance policy. You hope you never have to use it, but it’s there if you do. And you just never know.”
Burger used an event in 2001 to illustrate her point.
“When the tornado hit the homes in Madison County (in the Fairfield subdivision) last year, we wrote the American Red Cross a check for $10,000 on the spot,” she said. “Now, those are nice homes. The residents have good jobs. Perhaps a lot of them never imagined that they might need the help of the United Way or one of our partners. But, as I said, you never know.”
The Fairfield residents were just a few of the 12,062 individuals in 2001 who were afforded emergency or disaster assistance in the United Way of the Capital Area’s three-county area of Madison, Hinds and Rankin counties. Thousands more “traditional” recipients were also helped, including 730 homeless individuals who were provided shelter, 876 women who escaped domestic violence in safe houses and 2,000 individuals who received basic education and life skills training, just to name a few. And the young were helped more than all others — 46% of the chapter’s assistance in 2001 went to children and youth.
The United Way of the Capital Area, a division winner in the MBJ’s Salute to Business & Industry program, lists 27 partners, charitable and/or nonprofit organizations that receive Untied Way funding. These include the American Heart Association of Mississippi, Boys and Girls Clubs, Catholic Charities, Goodwill Industries, Girl Scouts of Middle Mississippi and Boy Scouts-Andrew Jackson Council, Mississippi Children’s Home Society, Operation Shoestring, Stewpot Community Services and Willowood Developmental Center. All these organizations have one thing in common — they are all based in Madison, Rankin and Hinds counties. Burger said of all the misconceptions about her organization, the false belief that United Way dollars go out of state is her favorite peeve.
“Every dollar raised by the United Way of the Capital Area stays right here,” Burger said. “More than that, decisions about where the money will go in our area are made by our volunteers right here. United Way of America provides us with great branding and support. But the money — and decisions about where that money will go — stays right here in the metro area.”
Burger and her staff of 14 are good stewards of donations, according to the 2001 Report on Charitable Organizations in Mississippi published by the Secretary of States Office. It found that in 2000, the United Way of the Capital Area brought in approximately $3.61 million, and 83.9% of those funds were spent on charitable purposes.
“When I’m hiring staff, I look in their eyes to see if that passion and commitment is there,” Burger said. “Maybe it’s because I’m a country girl, but it was instilled in me as a child that neighbors help neighbors. And I try to instill that same feeling and thought into my staff.”
The United Way of the Capital Area opened its doors way back in 1939 as the Community Chest of Jackson. It’s also been called the United Givers Fund. (It became United Way in 1973.) However, the mission has remained consistent. It reads, “To build a caring community that invests its local resources and energies to improve the quality of life for all residents.”
Burger said, “The reason I came to the United Way is because it builds communities and helps people here. No other organization makes a bigger impact at home than the United Way.
“When I received the call that I had been selected to head this organization, I was excited — and a little scared. You know what worries me today? Wondering what our community would be like if the United Way wasn’t here.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at email@example.com.