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United Way Sets $18.5-Million Goal for ’93-94 Campaign : Charity: The target is about $250,000 more than it collected in 1992. Bad economy won’t help.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Orange County United Way officials were cautiously optimistic Friday during the organization’s kickoff to its annual fund-raising campaign, at which business contributors were asked to pledge $18.5 million for the coming year.

The goal is about $250,000 more than the $18.2 million collected in the county in 1992. Given the continuing downturn in the economy, officials said, they are crossing their fingers that they will meet their relatively modest aim for 1993-94.

“The economy is not going to turn around completely,” said Horace Mitchell, Orange County United Way board chairman, after the kickoff rally, which was held in the parking lot of the organization’s county headquarters. “I don’t know if we can anticipate dramatic increases any time in the near future.”

Pledges for the nonprofit organization have steadily decreased in recent years, after strong climbs in the late 1980s. Orange County officials attribute the decline to the economy, the loss of big corporations which either have left the county or have shut down, and the apathy of the proliferating small businesses.

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Moreover, United Way officials added, people in Orange County just don’t give as much as others elsewhere.

Last year, Orange County pledges amounted to $7.60 per capita, compared to the $17 national average. Officials said the per capita figure in the county tends to remain relatively constant.

“When people think of the county, they think of the glitzy malls, the sandy beaches and the gracious homes; they don’t think of the homeless people in need . . . the men standing on street corners and the single women who have children,” said Vince Kontny, campaign chairman. “Orange County is not a giving county.”

Kontny conceded that the decrease in pledges last year also could be tied to a perception by some that their money may not be used for charitable causes.

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In April, 1992, it was alleged that the then-president of the United Way of America, William Aramony, mismanaged the organization’s funds and spent some of the donations for his personal use. Aramony was later dismissed.

Included in the Orange County United Way fund-raising kickoff was a statement condemning the reported abuses.

Orange County United Way, which is independent from the national group, also reiterated Friday its continuing monetary support for the Boy Scouts Council of Orange County. The Scouting organization is being sued by two Anaheim Hills brothers who allege that the council discriminates against them because they do not believe in God.

Boy Scouts of America has appealed an Orange County Superior Court verdict that the group is a business entity, not a private organization, and therefore cannot pick and chose members.

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Jeff Rocke, spokesman of Orange County United Way, said Friday that pending the appeals court decision, the organization will continue to fund the Boy Scouts.

After the rally, about 150 volunteers--most of them contributors from businesses--scattered out to United Way-funded agencies, where they rolled up their sleeves and spent the day painting, cleaning and landscaping. They also worked with disabled children and adults and packed and delivered food baskets to needy families in the county.

“I wanted to see for myself where my money was going,” said Bob Cretel, 32, an insurance claim supervisor from Dana Point who was painting the walls of a classroom at the Community Day Nursery of Garden Grove Inc. The nursery serves children of single working mothers. “I’ve heard about abuses in charities, and I think that’s going to happen. But I know there are a lot of good things that benefit those who are unfortunate.”

Doug Moore, 23, an accountant with a Costa Mesa firm, spent his day painting at the center, he said, because he wanted to give a name and face to some donors from corporations.

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“I want to let people know that we care about more than just the bottom line--making money,” he said.


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