Last updated: September 27. 2013 4:56PM - 2406 Views
Lonnie Adamson Editor/General Manager

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PICKENS COUNTY — Learning to give up control is one of the key components that the leader of the United Way of Pickens County says has led to the organization’s growth over the last 20 years.

This year marks the completion of two decades that United Way President Julie Capaldi has been the chief executive office of the organization that helps provide funding to organizations that helps people in need.

Growth of the organization has coincided with her own personal growth she says, growth in areas like patience, tenacity and humility. She has also done a good deal of listening along the way.

To hear her tell it, hearing what she needed to hear was not always pleasant, but it has led the organization to a stronger position financially, a more more efficient place administratively and a more effective place operationally.

One of the tough messages to hear was, “When you start doing something, they will give,” Capaldi said Friday, sitting down to discuss her two decades of experience in the Pickens county non-profit world.

“It was said kind of in a mean way, but it was right,” Capaldi said. The message came from an unnamed veteran of the non-profit arena.

That led to an analysis based in the community impact model of operating a United Way organization. The group found ways to listen to thee Pickens County community about what the issues are. That led to funding programs that the community better perceived would help their neighbors.

The programs can be categorized into three areas that the United Way describes as Community Basics, Education and Youth Impact and Financial Stability and Independence.

“We have gone from putting a band-aid on problems – that doesn’t help it hurts – to helping them learn how to sustain,” she said. “We are taking a holistic approach.”

A central need that has emerged is homelessness, she said. That led to the development of Family Promise , a collaboration with the faith community to provide shelter, food, a way for homeless children to get to their schools and parents to find work that will sustain them.

In the United Way 2012-2013 Annual Report, United Way staffer Steven Lambright said the results of a Pickens County homelessness study was surprising.

“I was shocked,” he said. “If you told me there were people living in a tent city in Greenville County, I would have believed it. In Pickens County, Never.”

But a Point in Time study that sent more than 100 volunteers out looking for homeless people on one evening found plenty of homelessness in Pickens County.

“In two instances, families were found living in sheds. People were found in the crawl space beneath a local business.

There was more than one tent city found that night. The estimate is more than 2,000 homeless people in Pickens County.

United Way of Pickens County has led the way to organize Family promise that will serve, Capaldi believes, as part of the holistic approach to getting people back on their feet.

Capaldi comes from a heritage of giving.

“My father was a community philanthropist, but he was silent about it. We didn’t know how much he gave until after he died. I helped my mother with his estate. He gave to the Republican Party, Dartmouth College, the United Way. When I went to camp and some of my friends couldn’t afford to go, they went because he made it possible. But I never knew,” said Capaldi. “When we went out Trick-or-Treating, we couldn’t get candy unless we also took along the UNICEF box (The United nations Children’s Fund).”

She had worked as a fund raiser for March of Dimes, The American Lung Association. Her husband wanted to move from Columbia and found a prospective job for her in 1993.

That is when she interviewed for the Pickens County United Way job.

“They hired me for my fund raising abilities,” she said. The board at that time created a position.

“I didn’t do my research and what I found out after I got here was that we were on the cusp of a financial disaster,” she said. “I could not have done it without a dedicated staff. I would have sunk.”

Economic changes in the area with declining textile operations and other manufacturing meant that the local United Way was losing 65 percent of its financial base.

Corporate giving and payroll deductions still exist, but the United Way locally transformed to seek individual gifts.

Capaldi and staff created giving categories like the Director’s Circle, a list of people who give $1,000 plus. “I was told people in Pickens County would not give that much. What they didn’t know is that we had people who were giving that much, we just weren’t recognizing it.”

Know the United Way recognizes six families that give more than $10,000 each, one that gives more than $7,500, two more than $5,000, 14 more than $2,500 each and 146 members giving more than $1,000 each.

That is in addition to corporate campaigns that frequently offer corporate donations and employee contributions.

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