The United Way has done invaluable work helping children and can inspire even more youths in the future, NFL Hall of Famer and Va. Tech graduate Bruce Smith told some 400 officials and volunteers Thursday during the United Way’s regional campaign kickoff.

“Thank God for organizations like the United Way,” Smith said during the luncheon, held at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center. “The reason I stand before you today, is because organizations like the United Way saw more in me [as a youth] than I saw in myself.”

Smith’s appearance marked the official start of annual fundraising campaigns for eight area United Way chapters: Bristol; Russell and Washington Counties, Smyth County, Southwest Virginia and Kingsport, Washington County, Greene County, and Elizabethton/Carter County in Tennessee.

United Way of Bristol Executive Director Lisa Cofer said the Twin City’s chapter, which supports nearly 30 non-profit organizations, has set a $1.4 million fundraising goal – its highest ever – for the current campaign.

“It is the largest goal we’ve ever set and it will take the whole community for us to reach it,” said Cofer, whose chapter reached its $1.3 million goal last year.” But the needs of our community are greater than ever before. So we have raised the bar.”

Jim Maxwell, publisher of the Bristol Herald Courier, is chairman of the Bristol chapter’s campaign.

During his luncheon speech, Smith, a 2009 Pro Football Hall of Famer after a near-20 year career as a star defensive lineman, told the gathering about being an underprivileged Norfolk youth who received encouragement to keep pursuing his goals from numerous sources – including groups supported by the United Way.  Smith said there is still a huge need for United Way groups to continue empowering youths to dream and achieve, especially with the growing challenges that children continue to face.

“We have to be a part of their lives, even if they aren’t our children,” Smith said during his 10-minute speech. “When we make this investment, we create ‘teammates’ instead of ‘inmates’ – ‘leaders’ instead of ‘followers.’ ”

Smith was invited to serve as keynote speaker by Bristol businessman and former NFL player Steve Johnson, who was Smith’s teammate at Virginia Tech.
Thursday’s regional luncheon was hosted by the United Way of Russell and Washington Counties.

Reprinted with permission:  Bristol Herald Courier, Roger Brown
(276) 645-2512

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