Volunteering keeps retiree busy

Posted: Tuesday, September 10, 2002

When one thinks of volunteering, it is natural for hands-on, grass-roots work to come to mind. However, the real nuts and bolts of a nonprofit organization like the Kenai Peninsula United Way, which disburses funds to other nonprofit agencies, are carried out by behind-the-scenes volunteers.

"We don't have a lot of direct contact with agencies in general," said George Ford, who has served the Kenai Peninsula United Way in different capacities since its inception in 1986.

However, without an organizations like the United Way to act as a middle man between donating businesses and individuals and the receiving groups, there could be a lot of hurt feelings when the time came to distribute donated funds.

"(Without us) they'd be trying to raise money at the same time, competing against one another," said Ford, who has lived on the peninsula for 27 years.

"Back when there was no United Way, all of these agencies were competing at the same time, the same events. (Businesses) had someone knocking on their door every day looking for a handout," he said.

Ford attributes a lot of United Way's success to the fact that it can act as a clearinghouse for funds. Businesses can give once a year and still be sure they are supporting multiple organizations in the community.

"I think only about one or two percent goes to the national organization. All the rest is local," Ford said. "We hope that the community will continue to support us as it has in the past. It's been wonderful to see it grow the way it has in the past 16 years."

When United Way was first getting started on the peninsula 16 years ago, Ford was already accustomed to volunteering.

He worked with Boy Scouts of America as a troop leader in his former home state of California and continues to help the Western Alaska Council of Boy Scouts when the need arises. He was involved with the Alaska Chapter of the American Petroleum Institute when he worked with Unocal.

Through his involvement with 4-H, Ford also helped organize the first livestock auction at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer. He was a founding member of the first Rotary International Club on the peninsula and when the club was divided into two, one in Kenai and another in Soldotna, he was a charter member of the Kenai club. He has been named Rotarian of the Year several times.

Ford and his wife, Mary, also were given the Log Cabin award by the Kenai Chamber of Commerce, an organization that Ford has been involved with for years.

All of this led to Ford's continued involvement in his community through eventually helping in the organization of the United Way on the peninsula.

"The need for services was growing. Our population had grown on the peninsula. Churches and The Salvation Army were trying to take care of it at the time. It was too much to do on their own," Ford said.

So, Ford and other founding board members, many of which are still actively involved with the group, sent in the necessary paperwork to the national United Way agency, organized officers, assigned tasks and in their first year managed to raise $165,000.

"The community has been real active, good to work with," he said. "It's a lot of work, but the community has been real receptive."

Peninsula communities have pulled through for the organization. In only 16 years, United Way campaigns have more than quadrupled the amount of money raised for member agencies.

"I think we have become better organized. We are able to reach out and contact business groups and individuals," Ford said.

It is through this organizing, behind-the-scenes effort, such as Ford's work on the by-laws and finance committees, that the United Way is able to make the impact it has on the community.

"It is the ability to help provide finances to some of the agencies where you can see results in the community," he said. "It takes the organization, the board."

Ford said he prefers organizations like the United Way taking the helm of these fund-raising and volunteering efforts rather than the alternative.

"I guess without volunteering going on it would relate back to government-type agencies trying to take care of it," he said.

"I would rather see the private side of our life take care of those things."

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