Sounding blunt and competitive, the president and CEO of the local United Way challenged the guests lunching at Abacus to help the Dallas Tocqueville group recruit more members—and beat the society’s rival counterpart in Houston.
“We’re just a whisper away from having 900 members, with 853 now,” Sampson told the attendees. “And there are only seven weeks to go until June 30. Houston has slightly more than 900 members. That doesn’t set well with us.”
(June 30 marks the end of the United Way’s current fiscal year.)
Indeed, the society in Houston says its 905 members donated $16.6 million to the United Way of Greater Houston last year, making it the “largest and most generous” Tocqueville organization in the country. To qualify for the Tocqueville Society, members must contribute $10,000 or more to United Way annually.
Sampson made her appeal as the luncheon guests—Abby Williams, Nicole Small, Cecily Gooch, and Roger Horchow among them—were preparing to tuck into a feast of glazed grilled chicken breast, hominy grits and cabbage slaw. Horchow, the famed Broadway producer and founder of the luxury mail-order catalog The Horchow Collection, was attending in order to support his daughter, Regen Horchow Fearson, who was the luncheon’s featured speaker.
In a talk titled “Preparing Our Workforce: Starting at Birth,” Fearon, an educator and philanthropist, described the work of the Zero to Five Funders Collaborative, which she chairs. Comprised of at least 20 North Texas funding groups, including the United Way, the collaborative advances an early-childhood education initiative. The initiative is aimed at equipping and supporting parents and caregivers to prepare children from birth to age 5 for success in school.
Those early years are critically important, Fearon said, because if children aren’t nourished and stimulated during the first five years—when 90 percent of human brain growth occurs—society in general, and business in particular, will suffer. “These are the taxpayers of tomorrow” and the future work force, she added. “So it’s more than a moral issue or a bleeding-heart issue. It will impact” employers and the economy.
The collaborative is focusing its current efforts on 4,000 parents and more than 5,000 at-risk children in the low-income Bachman Lake neighborhood, Fearon explained. For several years it has funded four agencies—AVANCE-Dallas, Catholic Charities, The Concilio, and East Dallas Community Schools—and they, in turn, have helped attract additional resources to the mostly Hispanic neighborhood, which has the highest percentage of children ages 0 to 3 of any ZIP code in the city.
During her briefing prior to Fearon’s talk, Sampson also reported on the local United Way’s recently launched, first-ever digital fundraising campaign, called “Silence the Growl (of Summer Hunger).” The initiative is using social media to raise money to help fill 8,000 food backpacks for children over a two-month period. The program is aimed at students who qualify for federally funded school meals, but need extra food during summer weekends. Sampson said that, as of May 12, the campaign already had filled 2,800 backpacks.
* Photos provided by United Way of Metropolitan Dallas