Manatee County United Way sets $2.8 million campaign goal

vmannix@bradenton.comJuly 27, 2012 

BRADENTON -- Chances are most of the people gathered for the breakfastThursday morning at Champs Sports won't ever see John Smith again.

They won't forget him, though.

The homeless 58-year-old speaker, a volunteer at the Bill Galvano One Stop Center and veterans liaison, defined the United Way's mission at its 2012-13 campaign kickoff held in conjunction with the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.

"What he had to say was powerful," said State Rep. Jim Boyd.

"He put a face on what the community needs," said board member and Publix executive Tim Henning.

"He brought home what's really happening in Manatee County -- and that we're making a difference," said campaign chair and First Bank executive Ann Lee.

Smith's presence

underlined the urgency behind attaining the new campaign's $2.8 million goal.

"I'm not a typical homeless person, but I needed help," he said afterward.

Smith got it at the One Stop Center and Community Coalition on Homelessness after a staggering series of setbacks.

The Baltimore native had a successful business with 40 employees, but it went under, so he and his son moved here.

Then his health declined, affecting his ability to work.

Finally, Smith's landlord stopped paying the mortgage and the Smiths were evicted with little notice.

"I wasn't working much, had no money to get another house and we were living in a tent," he said. "Finally we ended up at One Stop Center and the people there helped us enormously."

They helped the Smiths get food stamps, clothing, housing and medical attention -- and a small job for dad with Volunteers In Service to America, helping homeless veterans get services and shelter.

Helping them helped him. "To see the change in these vets is amazing," Smith said. "If they hadn't walked into that center they'd still be on the street."

Adell Erozer said programs supported by United Way make it possible.

"What they're doing is funding programs for people in crisis -- people like the Smiths, who'd lost everything," said the Community Coalition executive director. "It's hard to be a parent in his situation."

That hit home with Boyd.

"How blessed so many of us are who never had to face up to that," he said.

"Where he was to where he is now, helping other people, is heartwarming."

It also reinforces United Way's vital role in the community.

"There are things we can do to support really productive community organizations that truly help people," he said. "Hopefully, we can step up."

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