Valentine’s Day is a romanticized holiday, but for the United Way of McMinn & Meigs Counties, it was about celebrating abounding love within the community.

After all, at the annual meeting yesterday, officials announced that the 2018-2019 campaign exceeded its goal of $710,000, raising a total of $720,961 to benefit the non-profit partner agencies that the local United Way supports.

That level of benevolence is not only the highest amount a local United Way campaign has generated, but is also a vivid demonstration of love, according to Campaign Co-Chair Joyce Snyder, who thanked everyone “for bringing and sharing the love.”

“It is my belief that love is the strongest force on this earth. It has and can change the world,” Snyder said. “In the last year, your love has changed the lives of thousands. Thank you for making difference, for living united with us to bring hope, mercy and love into people’s lives.”

Snyder’s Campaign Co-Chair Chris Adams also commended individual entities and the community at large for helping to surpass the goal.

Among the various groups that were thanked included members of the President’s Council — donors who give $500 per year — who, all total, raised $302,534 for the 2018-2019 campaign. The President’s Council surpassed last year’s philanthropy by about $12,000.

Including this campaign’s success, the United Way of McMinn and Meigs Counties has contributed over $21 million to local agencies, according to records dating back to 1957.

Adams remarked on the necessity of the organization’s annual success for the community to thrive.

“A successful United Way is but one piece of a successful and prosperous community,” he said. “Identifying and meeting the most pressing needs in our community is not only important to those receiving the assistance, but it’s also important to the health and vibrant growth of the places we live and work.”

He also noted that the partner agencies that United Way supports are an integral component of the area.

“We are very blessed to have the agencies that we do in our community to take care of folks and offer services,” Adams said.

Also during the annual meeting, Spirit of the Community Awards were presented to businesses that went above and beyond embodying the spirit of dedication to the community during this year’s campaign. These included:

• Athens Utilities Board, who increases their donations and volunteer efforts every year, according to Executive Director Stephanie Linkous.

• Shaw Industries, for increasing their donations by 31 percent this year.

• Food City in Athens, for hosting the local United Way’s Celebrity Bagger event, which raised more money for United Way than any other participating Food City in the Southeast.

• The Athens Kiwanis Club, Westside School’s K-Kids Club and North City School’s K-Kids Club, for recruiting students from the Athens City Schools system to serve in various civic service projects.

Three individuals were also honored for exemplifying love through their actions.

Troy Giles was the recipient of the Joseph T. Frye Award, named in honor of a United Way of McMinn & Meigs Counties founder and given annually to a United Way partner agency volunteer or staff member for outstanding service. Giles was largely awarded the honor because of his contributions to the local Athens-McMinn Family YMCA.

Mike Bevins, chairman of the Athens City School Board of Education, was the winner of the James H. Willson Award, which is given to a United Way staff or board member for outstanding service. Bevins was named the awardee because of his volunteerism to the United Way in multiple capacities, as well as to various partner agencies and, especially, for participating in education initiatives.

Jeff Brandon, of Helping Hands Ministry, was presented with the Dick Dyer Community Service Award for his dedication of service to the community. Brandon was especially honored for his work with Helping Hands, a partner agency, but also for his fundraising efforts with various civic groups.

Also at the event, Connie Allen, an employee of Athens Utilities Board, was named winner of a hot tub from Dynasty Spas. Allen was chosen from a drawing which included people who contributed at least $1 per week to the local United Way campaign.

Since the ceremony marked the end of the 2018-2019 campaign, United Way of McMinn and Meigs Counties 2018 President Dr. Melanie Miller passed the gavel on to the 2019 President Stewart Smith.

Addressing his vision of leadership for the organization, Smith emphasized a desire to continue encouraging youth to maintain a spirit of giving, maintaining support for partner agencies and serving to collaborate community-wide to resolve what he called “broader issues” like homelessness and the opioid epidemic.

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