BRADENTON — Hilarity and heartbreak.
The United Way of Manatee County 2010-11 campaign kickoff luncheon encompassed both Tuesday at Renaissance on 9th.
United Way President Jerry Koontz and the Manatee UniTunes performing Willie Nelson’s “If You’ve Got The Money, Honey,” the winning song in the online “You Vote, Jerry Sings” contest.
“Be careful what you ask for, because you’re going to get it today,” he told the audience.
A tearful Daisy Benoit, a single mom, telling a solemn gathering of 300 how she wished as a young girl she’d had the guidance of after-school programs available at the Palmetto Boys & Girls Club.
“Kids get lost, but they don’t need to be because the people at those programs are there for them,” said Benoit, 30, an employee at Publix, a key United Way corporate partner.
Koontz was among those moved by her words.
“It gave us a good perspective on the situation a lot of people are experiencing today, which most of us are insulated from,” he said. “People are facing homelessness, joblessness. On the bright side there are services available that help them cope, which United Way helps fund.”
The crowd whistled and clapped along as Koontz and the UniTunes — staffers Tish Jones, Tara Donovan and Bronwyn Beightol — did their thing onstage in straw hats, shades, black Live United T-shirts and jeans, then joined the foursome in a lively encore.
“Country music will never be the same,” Kiwanian Don Schroder said.
“They’re better than some things I’ve heard in Vegas,” photography shop owner Lemoyne Johnson said.
“Maybe they should maybe play Parrish or Rubonia first, before they hit the big time,” said community activist Jo McRae.
The mood became subdued as campaign chairwoman Beth Bender steered the luncheon toward its purpose: gearing to raise $2.75 million for programs dealing with the needs of many in Manatee County in difficult economic times.
“Less dollars to give, less people employed, less purchasing going on, just less of everything — that is the biggest challenge this year more than any other,” said United Way board chairwoman Wendy Pearson.
Among the critical human care problems targeted by the campaign:
n Food and shelter.
n Intervention and prevention of abuse and violence.
n Early childhood development.
n Services for people with disabilities, the elderly and caregivers.
n Youth development.
“It’s going to be hard to raise all that money with all the cutbacks and sacrifices everybody’s been making,” said Darrell Turner, board member of Meals On Wheels Plus. “But we have a tremendous community. Everybody always steps up.”
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.