story and photos by Helen LeGrand, special to The City Wire
In the Golden Living Dining Center, United Way of Fort Smith Area  held its 2012 Campaign Kick-Off luncheon, with an estimated 200 in attendance.
The 25 pacesetter businesses, such as Farmer’s Bank, USA Truck Inc., OG&E, and other guests comprised the estimated 200 attendants.
United Way Board Chairwoman Kathy Babb welcomed them to the event before introducing Campaign Chairwoman Sister Judith Marie Keith.
“She is a woman you can’t say no to,” said Babb of Sister Keith.
Upon taking the podium, Keith smiled and comically responded, “I think she’s got it backwards, did you see those big blue eyes?”
Keith took little personal responsibility for the success of the campaign’s efforts thus far. Instead she graciously thanked the Pacesetter companies for their leadership and compassion in their communities and their involvement in ‘kicking off’ the campaign.
She announced that their efforts had raised $1.113 million, spearheading the campaign to 50% of its goal of $2.3 million for this year. Keith explained that she hoped for a 5% increase in contributions from the companies this year. She explained that in light of the loss of major companies in the area and hard economic times she still believes United Way can achieve this goal.
Arkansas Best Corp. and Cooper Clinic were announced as this year’s Pacesetters of the Year with significant increase in employee campaign participation, corporate gift, total campaign dollars raised, and other criteria. Janet Chronister accepted the award on behalf of Arkansas Best Corp., and Cooper Clinic CEO Doug Babb and wife Kathy Babb accepted the award for Cooper Clinic. This was Cooper Clinic’s first year as a Pacesetter company.
Fort Smith United Way Executive Director Tom Minton closed the event by bringing out the famous red-thermometer fundraiser chart, effectively displaying the success of being halfway to United Way of Fort Smith Area’s goal.
Minton thanked the guests for their participation and stated his confidence that United Way will reach its goal for the 2012 campaign.
Founded in 1928, the United Way of Fort Smith Area works with social service agencies in Crawford, Franklin, Logan and Sebastian counties in Arkansas, and LeFlore and Sequoyah counties in Oklahoma. The United Way of Fort Smith Area works with 34 “community partners”  in the six counties.