Skip to main content

Former Cornell United Way campaign chair Andy Noel, right, the Meakem*Smith Director of Athletics and Physical Education, presents a prop check for $2,000 to master of ceremonies Brandon Fortenberry.

Celebration jump-starts United Way campaign

The 2019 Cornell United Way campaign was jump-started Sept. 25 with dancing and actual jumping, as well as some spirited karaoke and a bit of dress-up in Willard Straight Hall.

United Way of Tompkins County campaign chair Cal Walker speaks at the 2019 Cornell United Way campaign kickoff at Willard Straight Hall.

Brandon Fortenberry, director of Cornell Catering, served as master of ceremonies. His wardrobe emphasized “monies” – he wore a green, dollar-print suit and urged attendees to use the laptops at the back of the Memorial Room to make online donations to the campaign.

“We’re not just here to feed you. … We’re here to get your monies,” he said unapologetically.

The Cornell community provides about 40% of the support for the United Way of Tompkins County, bolstering local and regional programs and services in health, education and financial stability. In the campaign’s first 48 hours, more than $100,000 had been raised toward the university’s goal of $750,000, according to United Way of Tompkins County campaign chair Cal Walker.

“Contributing to the United Way is really supporting the very important and essential work that so many not-for-profit organizations are doing to help meet the many and varied needs of so many people, not only in our local community, but in surrounding communities as well,” said Walker, a local activist, entrepreneur and former outreach liaison for Cornell’s Office of Community Relations. “And in a very real way, we’re doing nothing less than partnering to help others have a better life.”

James Brown, president and CEO of United Way of Tompkins County, thanked Cornellians for their longtime support.

“The Cornell community was instrumental in starting United Way [of Tompkins County] in 1921,” Brown said. “You’ve been a big part of our United Way since that time, and you continue to make the heavy lift for our organization and allowing us to serve people across Tompkins County.”

Former Cornell United Way campaign chair Andy Noel, the Meakem*Smith Director of Athletics and Physical Education, continued his tradition of cutting a big check for the campaign: an oversized prop in the amount of $2,000. Cornellians who give more than $1,000 become members of the President’s Leadership Association and are invited to a special celebration with Cornell President Martha E. Pollack early next year.

Fortenberry stressed that even small donations through payroll deduction can accrue into meaningful sums over time, and donations can be earmarked for participating 501(c)3 nonprofits.

Audience members perform the viral “triangle dance,” in which three people link arms and take turns jumping in and out of formation.

“Payroll deduction doesn’t have to hit your pocketbook really hard,” Fortenberry said. “Just giving $1 a paycheck can buy five days of Meals on Wheels for one person, two round trips for a rural mom or a father and his or her baby to the pediatrician, and an hour of home health aide services – things that people desperately need in our community.” 

Fortenberry also encouraged people to hit the dance floor. To demonstrate the importance of coordination and teamwork, he led members of the audience in the “triangle dance,” a recent viral internet trend in which three people link arms and take turns jumping in and out of formation.

After the dancing, Cornell United Way campaign co-chairs Pat Wynn, assistant vice president for student and campus life, and Rick Burgess, vice president for facilities and campus services, donned garish, glittering outfits and performed as Las Vegas singers “Peaches and Rick,” belting out a cover of the 1979 radio staple “Reunited” by R&B duo Peaches and Herb, with modified lyrics like “There’s United Way for us to give every day.”

Cornell United Way unit directors shared testimonials written by local residents whose lives had been improved by organizations like the Greater Ithaca Activities Center and the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County, which are supported through United Way funding.

Cornell United Way campaign co-chairs Pat Wynn and Rick Burgess, perform incognito as “Peaches and Rick,” singing their own rendition of “Reunited” by R&B duo Peaches and Herb.

Walker recounted the impact the United Way had on his own life when he was undergoing aggressive chemotherapy treatment for cancer several years ago.

“One of the great lessons was the volunteers and the staff of the Cancer Resource Center, right downtown on West State Street,” Walker said. “The Cancer Resource Center is one of the organizations supported by the United Way. And the support that they provided for me was very welcome, very much appreciated, not only by me, but by my family. And here’s the point. But for the type of support that that particular organization is getting … through the United Way, their ability to do the same thing for many other people would be severely limited.”

The theme of this year’s United Way campaign is “Be the Solution,” so it was fitting that the celebration concluded with Walker and local musician John Simon performing reggae legend Jimmy Cliff’s “No Problems, Only Solutions.”

Tax-deductible gifts to the campaign can be made online, through payroll deduction or by writing a check. Visit the Cornell United Way website for more information. To volunteer to help the Cornell United Way campaign in the coming weeks, email campus United Way coordinator Susan Riley. The formal campaign ends Dec. 31.

Media Contact

Gillian Smith