As a child, Christina Jones saw letters backward. Her dyslexia undiagnosed, she never learned to read. When she fell behind other students, and school became hard and demeaning, she quit.
At 57, Jones learned about Literacy Kansas City, a program funded by the United Way of Greater Kansas City. Now, at 59, she has her high school equivalency and aspirations of becoming a teacher.
“I remember the day I got my GED,” Jones said. “The first person I called was (her reading teacher) Fred Valentine.”
What Jones called her “victory over illiteracy with the help of the United Way” brought the organization’s cheering supporters to their feet Tuesday at the 2012 campaign kickoff luncheon.
Jones told her story to help campaign organizers launch a two-fold strategy that was used for the first time last year: The goal: Get 5 percent more donors, and get donors to give 5 percent more money than they gave a year ago to fund the 42 agencies and 320 programs that United Way supports.
“With the economy showing slight improvement, we hope the community will rally behind the 5 percent increase challenge,” said United Way President Brent Stewart. “This year we have an opportunity to even do better than that. There is great energy and the community has set the momentum through our campaign pacesetters.”
At the lunch at the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center, the United Way celebrated the more than $4.1 million raised already this year by the campaign’s 10 pacesetting companies.
The crowd heard stories about how United Way–funded agencies have helped people with everything from health care assistance for an infant struggling with a rare, life-threatening disorder to helping a high school dropout get an internship — and the top score in the state on the high school equivalency exam the year he took it.
“Labor and management don’t always agree on everything, but the one thing that we do agree on is helping other people,” said union leader Jay Lind, who is with Sheet Metal Workers Union Local No. 2 and a co-chairman of this year’s campaign with Sprint President Dan Hesse.
Hesse and others said that with times still tough, the United Way knows that many people won’t find it possible to give more than they did last year.
The 2008 campaign was the last year the agency set a monetary goal, $38.2 million.
United Way raised $35.1 million in 2009 and in 2010.
In a sign that the economy may be rebounding, last year’s campaign raised more than $36 million, a 3.1 percent increase.
Among other initiatives funded by United Way’s campaign, this year the agency is investing $4.7 million in 75 programs that assist children, including early-education, after-school and child-abuse programs.
Another $7 million is being aimed at 154 programs promoting healthy and safe neighborhoods. Nearly $3 million is being used to help families facing financial crisis.