United Way sets goal of $900,000 for this year's campaign

James Beckett was homeless. He spent 90 days living at the Beth-El Shelter in Milford. Today, he is a case manager and house manager at New Haven’s Believe in Me Empowerment Corporation.

Beckett was one of several people who spoke at the United Way campaign kick-off last week, explaining why the community dollars are so vital and why people should contribute to the United Way.

“Homelessness has no face, no color, no income bracket,” he said. “It can happen to any of us. Many of us think we already have a plan. I was able to turn to the Beth El Center.”

Milford’s United Way supports the Beth El Center for homeless people as well as 21 other non-profit causes in Milford. In 2013, the United Way gave $19,000 to the Beth El Shelter.

The United Way’s goal for 2014 is $900,000, the same as it was for the 2013 distribution. Agency members and volunteers say the economy is still making things tough on non-profit groups, like those that the United Way supports, and it’s making it harder to raise money to help them.

United Way Executive Director Gary Johnson said several years ago the campaign goal was $1 million, but the economy has brought that down somewhat. The $900,000 is a “stretch goal,” he said, but added that the agency raised that amount during last year’s campaign and hopes it can do it again.

“The thing is that when the economy is bad, more people need services,” Johnson said.

That message was echoed by others who spoke at the start-of-the-campaign event at Subway World Headquarters last Thursday. Mayor Ben Blake said, “Times are tight, so your support is more important than ever.”

This year’s campaign co-chairman are Diane and Tony Candido. Diane said she understands it may be a challenge to meet the goal, but she thinks the volunteers who have signed up to lead the different campaign divisions will make it happen.

In addition to people like Beckett, the Jamieson family of Milford attended the kickoff. They got help after Hurricane Irene and Sandy.

“Financial support from the United Way’s Emergency Fund helped us pay two months of our rent and utility bills,” said Debbie Jamieson. The Jamiesons have four teenage children, and they lost photos, clothes, a hot water heater, washer, dryer and furnace in the storms.

“This support enabled us to get back on our feet and also celebrate the holiday with our family,” Debbie added.

Julie Myers, a youngster who attends the Boys & Girls Club in Milford, was at the kickoff, too. She talked about the leadership training and other programs she finds at the Boys & Girls Club. In 2013, the United Way gave $17,000 to the club.

Stamford native and Connecticut sport legend Bobby Valentine, who played and managed in the Major Leagues, was the guest speaker at the annual kickoff.

He talked about 25 years owning a business in Milford — including Bobby Valentine’s sports bar — and said Milford people can spread their good will across the community through the United Way.

“I’ve always respected the camaraderie in this community,” Valentine said.

“It’s not a storm that is needed to create the need,” he said. “Every day someone needs help.”

The United Way funds the following agencies:

American Red Cross, Beth El Center, BHCare, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boy Scouts, Boys & Girls Club, Bridges, Catholic Charities, Girl Scouts, Good Shepherd Child Development Center, YMCA, the Kennedy Center, Kids Count of Milford, Literacy Center of Milford, Milford’s Promise, the Milford Senior Center, New Haven Legal Assistance Association, the Rape Crisis Center, the Salvation Army, the Visiting Nurse Association, the Young Parent Program and United Way 2-1-1 program.

The campaign underway now is called the 2013 campaign, but provides funds for 2014 distribution from January to December.