United Way of Central Alabama has had a long and proud history in the community. It began in 1923 as the Birmingham Community Chest, and for more than 90 years, it has helped raise resources and provide services to meet the most pressing needs in Central Alabama communities. Many people have grown familiar with the work of United Way through the involvement of their parents and grandparents in the organization. United Way and all of its partner agencies rely on new generations to carry the flame of their forebearers, because there is always more work to be done.
One of the goals of United Way’s Young Philanthropists Society is to foster that crucial generational support. YPS is a group of young professionals in Central Alabama who give at a Leadership level of $1,000 or more to United Way. Many YPS members and all three of its co-chairs have a long and proud family history of philanthropic work and contributing to the work of United Way.
Jemison Jones, YPS co-chair, perhaps best exemplifies the family tradition of giving. Jones’ great-great-grandfather, Crawford Johnson Sr., was one of the founders of the Birmingham Community Chest, the organization that would eventually become United Way of Central Alabama. In addition, his father, grandfather and great-grandfather have all served as chairman of United Way’s Board and his brother also currently serves on the board.
“I love Birmingham. I consider it the best-kept secret in the South,” boasted Jemison. “With that being said, Birmingham and the surrounding communities have a growing need in the areas where the United Way focuses its resources: health, education and financial stability. If we can improve people’s lives addressing the root causes of our problems, we will have a more peaceful and productive community.”
Jemison sees the value of YPS as introducing leadership-level givers to United Way at an early age. Since his family is in the soft drink business, he uses a soda analogy to illustrate his point.
“I heard a statistic one time saying a consumer chooses their drink-of-choice for their lifetime by age 21,” Jemison says. “I think the same could be said for philanthropy.”
Another YPS member with a family history of giving is co-chair Ginny Willings. She is a community relations coordinator with Brasfield & Gorrie, where she also organizes the company’s annual United Way campaign. She says her grandparents, parents, aunt and uncle are proud supporters of United Way, with her grandfather being a charter member of the Tocqueville Society and has been honored with United Way’s Tocqueville Award in 1999. Her uncle, Jimmie Gorrie, was the United Way campaign chair in 2007. Willings says she enjoys YPS because it brings together people who are passionate about improving their community.
“I think being involved with the community, whether it be financially or volunteering of your time is so important,” Willings says. “We all have a responsibility to make our city a better place for future generations. Get involved with an organization or cause that is important to you, and make a difference.”
The third YPS co-chair, Ann McEwen, also has a rich family history with United Way, although it was one she didn’t fully discover until recently. McEwen was chosen as a Loaned Executive from Regions Bank in 2013, assisting with the annual workplace fundraising campaign. During a visit for her grandparents, she mentioned her new volunteer job and was surprised to learn that her grandfather was already familiar with it.
“Immediately, my grandfather began telling me stories of how he’d been a Loaned Executive when he was just starting out,” McEwen says. “And how the experience helped him shape his views on charitable giving, and even the business connections he made in the community during the time he spent as a Loaned Executive!”
As she became more involved with United Way outside of her role as an LE, McEwan also learned that her grandparents were members of the Tocqueville Society. When her grandfather passed away last summer, she discovered several photos taken during her grandfather’s time as an LE, more than 50 years ago. One depicted the amount raised that year, around $3 million dollars. McEwen says that she laughed at that – the campaign total for her grandfather’s entire campaign was less than the individual goal she had as an LE. Last year, United Way of Central Alabama raised $39 million dollars, and she attributes the jump not just to inflation, but to the growth of United Way and the community of giving made possible through the foundations help laid by her grandfather.
“My final few years with my grandfather were made more special due to our connection with United Way,” McEwen says. “Ultimately, one of the most meaningful parts of my relationship with him had come at the end of his life. But the influence of that lives on in my own involvement in the organization he cared about, and in the legacy he and others have built there for so long.”
United Way of Central Alabama Inc. supports health and human service programs and agencies that provide solutions for the most important needs in the community. Its business is to improve lives and community conditions by building and mobilizing resources. To learn more about United Way’s impact in your community, visit www.uwca.org