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Hundreds enjoy drive kick-off celebration

By By Adam Prestridge
It is an understatement to say last Thursday's Atmore United Fund kickoff was a success.
Simply calling it a success doesn't do it justice. It was a huge success.
Atmore United Fund Board members were more than pleased with the turnout from agencies that benefit from United Fund and also from Atmore residents that took part in the carnival-style kickoff, which was held in conjunction with the Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce's Business After Hours.
"I think the kickoff was a huge success," United Fund president Susan Smith said. "As a matter of fact, everybody that I talked to said that it was the most people they have ever seen in the park at any given time. They also said it was the most diverse group they have seen at that park."
Agencies lined the circular sidewalk at Heritage Park with booths offering those present literature about their organization. Some gave away popcorn, candy and other prizes, which proved to be fun for young and old alike.
Smith believes having the agencies on hand was especially important so contributors can see how their donations are being spent.
"I think it gave everybody the opportunity to see exactly how their money is given back into the community," she said. "Everyone had the opportunity to go to each individual agency to talk to them and see firsthand what they are about. That was the board's goal of this event. A lot of people don't realize what United Fund is all about."
United Fund secretary Cathy McKinley, who was one of the kick-off committee members in charge of getting the agencies to attend the kickoff, was extremely pleased with the turnout.
"I think the kick-off celebration was a great success," she said. "The enthusiasm of all the agencies was wonderful. As I called each agency to make sure preparations were being finalized, I could feel the excitement. They were excited about their booths and the type of information and giveaways they were bringing to the park."
McKinley, who is also director of the Atmore Public Library, was also one of the agencies with a booth on display. She felt that it was important to promote the library during an event like the United Fund kickoff to insure high exposure.
"As a representative of Atmore Public Library, I felt we needed to let the public see what the library has to offer," McKinley said. "Pamphlets on Alabama Virtual Library, homeworkalabama.com and learning express library were given to everyone who visited our booth. Many knew about these and some did not. They were excited to see the new technology the library offers and that it's available right in their home. The library is changing and we believe the change is for the good."
Smith was pleased to report that 98 percent of the agencies funded by the Atmore United Fund were on hand. She believes that says a lot for the agencies and the efforts of the United Fund.
"I think it just goes to show you that everybody is working together and has the same goal in mind and that is that we want this coming campaign and goal to be a success," Smith said. "That is what it's going to take – the community, board, agencies and the people of Atmore. It's going to take everybody, not just one person."
The Escambia County High School band was on hand to entertain the crowd and officially kickoff the event with the playing of the National Anthem. Smith said she felt the band's presence was a must.
"When the band marched in and crossed the street, it was awesome," she said. "It was a showstopper. Everybody stopped what they were doing and it kind of set the whole mood of the event."
Prior to the National Anthem, Atmore United Methodist Church pastor Dan Rhodes gave the invocation and the local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts presented the American Flag and Alabama Flag, while leading the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. Following the ECHS band, the Escambia Academy cheerleaders performed a song and dance to the beat of Vanilla Ice's hit, "Ice Ice Baby".
Board member Ann Glavan, who was instrumental in making sure the kickoff went off without a hitch, said she couldn't have asked for a better turnout.
"I thought that the kickoff could not have been more successful," she said. "Everything that the committee dreamed of came to fruition. We wanted to create something different for United Fund, involve a larger group within our community, a rally – a chance for the United Fund agencies to tell their story…as our letter to them stated, a chance to 'Toot Your Horn!'"
The United Fund Board decided against an afternoon lunch kickoff opposed to years past. Opting to go with a festival-style kickoff took a lot of planning, but the exposure it gave United Fund will hopefully prove to be invaluable.
"I can't speak for the agencies, but the people that I talked to during the kickoff and the Friday following said they were amazed at the turnout," Shep Marsh, who served as president of United Fund in 2005 and continues to serve on the board, said. "I think it attracted a surprising number of people, exposed a segment of the community to United Fund that wasn't sure what we do, gave exposure to agencies that had not had a lot of publicity, and broadened the understanding of how much contributed dollars help. Most significantly, I think it gave the campaign a spark it hasn't had for awhile."
McKinley agrees.
"I don't believe the kickoff could have been more successful," she said. "The size of the crowd, the many volunteers, the wonderful response from our sponsors, the hard work of all the Board members and the agencies is proof that Atmore is a caring community. The appeal of a small town was never so evident as it was last Thursday. Atmore helping Atmore – that's what it is all about."
The United Fund Board meets at 7:30 a.m. on the first Wednesday of every month. At each meeting, committee reports are given and updates on the current drive, budget expectations and review discussions are given.
"We had the culmination of many months of work; pulled together by so many individuals, committee members, board members, agency workers and their volunteers, businesses throughout town, participation of schools and community members young and old," Glavan said.
The Atmore United Fund board is made up of 21 members. Seven board members made up the kick-off committee, which was in charge of Thursday's event.