Fifteen years ago, local philanthropist Sallie Johnson visited United Community Center (UCC) in the western section of Birmingham as part of a Visiting Allocations Team (VAT) for United Way of Central Alabama (UWCA). A VAT is made up of volunteers who determine how the millions of dollars raised by UWCA every year are distributed to its various partner agencies. During that process, team members delve into the mission, operations, needs, results and accountability of the specific agencies they visit. And during this particular trip to UCC (also known as the Riley Center), Sallie was deeply impressed by the services provided to local senior citizens.
In the years following, Sallie and her husband Jim, who were already members of the Tocqueville Society, established their own non-profit organization as yet another way to give back to their community. When their foundation was recently blessed with a surplus, Sallie reached out to Caroline Bolvig, UWCA’s Vice President of Major Gifts, about that memorable visit to United Community Center to see if it could use the funds. As you might have already guessed, the answer was “yes.”
UCC serves its community in a variety of ways with a strong focus on senior programs. Those programs, however, were limited to indoor activities – even during the nicest weather – because there wasn’t any outdoor space available. It was clear to Sallie and Jim that using their gift to build an outdoor pavilion for the UCC seniors to enjoy would be a game changer.
The Johnsons worked closely with United Way Hands On, the volunteer arm of UWCA formerly known as Hands On Birmingham, to ensure that their donation went as far as possible by enlisting volunteer assistance and expertise along the way. Hands On, in turn, reached out to UWCA groups, such as the Young Philanthropists Society and Tocqueville Society, as well as groups from Engineers of the South, Regions and Fairfield Southern Group. Individual volunteers also played key roles in the project. Marvin Williams, an area resident and member of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees, for example, showed up for every day of work on the project, and Jerry Blankenship roofed the new structure. Bhate Environmental Associates enhanced the pavilion project by providing the funds and volunteer labor to landscape the new space, even going so far as to increase its donation to beautify the space with flowers, shrubs and hanging planters. As a result of these coordinated efforts and generous funding, the seniors at United Community Center have a dedicated outdoor space to enjoy far into the future.
On May 31, Sallie and Jim Johnson along with volunteers from the project and clients from the UCC Riley Center gathered to celebrate the new pavilion at a ribbon cutting ceremony. Speakers including Riley Center Director Theresa Johnson, UWCA President and CEO Drew Langloh and District 7 City Counselor Wardine Alexander praised the project, citing the positive impact the new space will have on the community and the outstanding camaraderie involved in bringing the project to life.
This story, like so many that come from United Way of Central Alabama, shows how productive the spirit of giving can be when a community comes together to help others…and how impactful a positive impression can be, even 15 years later.