United Way is Celebrating 35 Years of Serving Gordon County

For 35 years, the United Way of Gordon County has mobilized caring people to invest in our community where resources are needed most. With origins dating back to the 1960s, the United Way became an official 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in April of 1987. To read our complete press release about our 35 years serving Gordon County, read below.

Press Release - May 2022

The United Way of Gordon County is celebrating 35 years as a non-profit organization that raises money for local agencies that work in the fields of education, basic needs, and health. While our community is fairly small, the needs have continued to grow throughout the years, and United Way is focused on being the organization that can help address some of our community’s most pressing issues. United Way was started by local people that were already making a difference and raising money to help organizations have a larger impact on the community. 

In April of 1987, United Way of Gordon County received its 501(c)3 designation as a non-profit, tax-exempt organization. However, it didn’t just pop-up out of the blue. During the 1960s, an organization called The Gordon County Community Chest was formed and was led by Ron Woods who served as President from 1972 to 1973. Woods and other local leaders like Dick Inman, Anita Davis, Jan Goble, Jim Mathews, David Lance, Ron Dobbs, and Charles Miller all helped raise money with a board comprised of volunteers through 1989 -- raising as much as $25,000 to support the Voluntary Action Center, Winner’s Club of Calhoun, the Red Cross, and Boy Scouts. 

The Community Chest transitioned to the United Way of Gordon County with Jan Goble serving as the first Board President. In 1989, Rebecca Owen became the first Executive Director of United Way and she served in that role until 1999. In the very first year, United Way raised $97,100 for the 1988-1989 campaign. Following Owen as Executive Director was Trace Vaughn from 1999 to 2001, Ronnie McBrayer from 2001 to 2005, and then from 2005 to 2006 United Way was led by a group of folks including Chris Marshall, Joe Battaglio, and Debbie Baggett. It was the next Executive Director that would take United Way to new heights as Vickie Spence, retired Vice-Superintendent of Gordon County Schools, took the reins just three days after she retired in September of 2006 and would lead United Way for the next 13 years. 

Many of the companies who started workplace campaigns and payroll deduction contributions under the leadership of Rebecca Owen still give to United Way today, and most of these businesses have seen increased giving through the years. In 1994, Ms. Owen and a group of volunteers at United Way of Gordon County established the inaugural Unity Run 5K to mark the kick off of the annual fundraising campaign season. This year, on September 27th, the fall tradition will hold its 29th Annual Unity Run 5K in what has become one of the most popular and well-attended events in Gordon County. 

The longest-tenured United Way of Gordon County director, Vickie Spence, helped grow United Way into a thriving organization. Under Spence’s leadership, the United Way of Gordon County was able to reach an annual pledged campaign goal of over $840,000. Campaign goals are pledged to United Way annually through workplace campaigns, large one-time gifts, fundraising events, and corporate investments. Along with growing the Unity Run 5K each year, Spence helped create Dancing with the Stars in 2012, an event that would run for ten years with Mohawk Industries being the premiere sponsor every year. In 2018, it was announced by Debra Owens, representing her family’s George Owens Estate Fund, that United Way of Gordon County would be the recipient of a $1,150,000 trust gift that would provide the agency with security and continued success. 

Spence recalls her time with United Way, saying, “I often referred to my time at United Way of Gordon County as my second life. After spending 33 very enjoyable and fulfilling years as an educator, with all but three of those years spent in the Calhoun and Gordon County School Systems, I was given the opportunity to serve as the United Way Director for Gordon County. Without a doubt, United Way was my favorite job. Working in such a caring and giving community that was always ready to step up for others made the job even better. The opportunity to work with fantastic board members, business leaders, government officials, community partners, the faith community, and those who needed help made coming to work each day worthwhile. Knowing that much of the funding for United Way partner agencies must come from successful community campaigns kept me focused on my job. I truly appreciated and loved my 13 years with United Way of Gordon County.” 

In April of 2019, Jennifer Latour became the new Executive Director of United Way of Gordon County and continues to serve in this role today. Jennifer is passionate about serving the community and continuing to grow the impact and reach of United Way. Despite starting her tenure during the onset of a global pandemic, Latour has led the United Way in pledges that have exceeded $1.5 million during the 2020 and 2021 Campaigns combine – even with understandably decreased giving from many companies and individuals as a result of COVID-19. During the beginning of the pandemic, United Way of Gordon County launched its COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund. Under Latour’s leadership, the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund was able to raise over $12,000 and help over 700 individuals with basic needs. 

Even with the unprecedented challenges since she has taken over as Executive Director, Latour has seen great progress and perseverance from area companies that hold workplace campaigns. There has been increased participation with the Unity Run 5K, and three new events were created: the Pumpkin Patch in partnership with Downtown Calhoun, Claus For A Cause, and this year’s brand new fundraiser Casino Night. In the past year, United Way exceeded its 2022 Campaign goal of $750,000 and was able to impact more than 35,000 lives in the community through the 18 local community partner organizations that United Way of Gordon County supports. Like Spence, Latour said that it is a joy to come to work each day, knowing that she can play a small part in improving the lives of her neighbors. 

United Way of Gordon County has grown through the years despite local and global challenges that we have all faced. From a global recession to a global pandemic, the people of Gordon County have supported United Way for over 35 years, and this year, we want to celebrate all those who make a difference by donating, volunteering, and advocating for United Way of Gordon County. Help us celebrate 35 years of unity in our community by donating to United Way. Visit our website at gordoncountyunitedway.org. 

United Way’s mission is to change lives, connect the community, and challenge donors to LIVE UNITED. 

This article originally appeared in the Calhoun Times and the Gordon Gazette. 

If you are interested in running a workplace campaign with us, sponsoring an upcoming event like our Unity Run 5K, or simply want to donate to United Way, please visit our website or contact us at info@gordoncountyunitedway.org or 706-602-5548.