The economic climate may seem grim, but the spirit of giving at Cornell is stronger than ever, according to the latest numbers from the Cornell United Way Campaign. Organizers announced Dec. 22 that the campaign has reached its goal -- $740,000 for 2008 -- with pledges to date at $741,569.16. The campaign runs until March 31.
The news is particularly welcome as more people are expected to seek help from the organization's member agencies and service providers, and as government funding for those agencies drops.
"It is inspiring that Cornell's faculty, staff and students have come through for the good of the community during these difficult economic times," said Joanne DeStefano, current chair of the Cornell United Way Cabinet. "Still, the campaign is not over, and we're encouraging everyone who can give to do so, to help the Tompkins County United Way achieve its goal."
Earlier in December, the Cornell Chronicle's Lauren Gold spoke with DeStefano and James Brown, president of the United Way of Tompkins County, about the 2008-09 campaign.
Lauren Gold: The Cornell campaign feeds into the United Way's community campaign, which has an ambitious goal of $2,065,000. How's it going?
James Brown: Surprisingly well. Actually, from a dollar standpoint we're a little ahead of where we were last year. I think the success we've had has been driven in large part by the Cornell campaign, [which] energizes and mobilizes the rest of the community.
LG: How does United Way work?
JB: We have  member organizations, and we also have "targeted areas of care," where we fund outside member organizations [that deal with]: hunger and food security; access to medical care; and youth and philanthropy. [We fund] organizations that are providing services in those areas regardless of whether they are member organizations or not.
LG: How does the United Way campaign fit with the university's efforts to give back to the broader community?
Joanne DeStefano: One of President Skorton's goals is to extend leadership to serve the public good. We've had an incredible group of volunteers work on Cornell's United Way campaign, and they're very passionate about issues facing Tompkins County and the local region.
LG: The goal for staff and faculty participation is 20 percent, but the rate this year is just over 15 percent. How are you working to get more people involved?
JD: As good a job as we do communicating to campus, there are large pockets that still don't know much about the United Way. The long-term goal will be to figure out a better way of getting that communication out to campus. I think that if people really understand the United Way, they'll contribute more.
LG: How many families and individuals benefit each year from United Way agencies?
JB: Most Tompkins County residents are touched in some way through a United Way organization, program or activity, from Challenge Industries, Franziska Racker Centers and Family and Children's Center [to] the YMCA, the Girl Scouts [and] GIAC.
LG: Why is the United Way particularly important this year?
JB: As people are facing challenges in their lives, as people are losing employment, the needs are great. And we are seeing that [this year], more people are giving. Not necessarily large gifts, but more first-time gifts.
JD: In addition to the need growing, funding for local agencies is dropping significantly -- particularly from government sources. Local agencies are going to depend on organizations like the United Way to keep them viable.
LG: How can Cornell employees get involved, besides through donations?
JD: We would like more people serving as division deputies, and we also need staff to help out with the Stephen E. Garner food drive and the kickoff. Contact me, and we will find a role for you.
United Way pledges can be paid through payroll deduction or with a check or credit card. For more information, visit United Way of Tompkins County's Web site http://www.uwtc.org or http://www.cornell.edu/unitedway/.