When Alison Lebovitz asked members of the Howard High School marching band if they would be a part of Tuesday's United Way of Greater Chattanooga community campaign kickoff, she also needed their buy-in.
When she inquired if any of them had ever been to the YMCA, a number of hands went up. When she asked if any of them had participated in the Boys and Girls Club of Chattanooga, more hands went up.
Those agencies, Lebovitz told them, receive United Way funding.
"We have to be engaging that younger generation," she said. "If we're not lighting the torch, we're in trouble."
Invoking the word-generating toy Wordle, recalling the icy stare of former UT women's basketball coach Pat Summitt and employing the Howard band, Lebovitz announced at the Chattanooga Convention Center that the goals of the 2012 campaign would be $11.6 million and $12 million -- the "stretch goal."
The campaign raised more than $11.9 million in 2011, reaching its goal for the 90th straight year. The organization's record campaign was $11,950,726 in 2010.
"There's a monumental amount of work to be done," she told the audience at a combined meeting of the downtown Rotary and Kiwanis Club, urging them to "give, advocate and volunteer" in order to "make things better and stronger than the way you found it."
Bea Lurie, president and chief executive officer of Girls Inc., said United Way is the agency's largest benefactor and has helped fund it since 1965, four years after it was founded. Without it, she said, "we couldn't provide the kind of programs we provide and serve the girls we serve."
Among those programs, according to Lurie, is the Bookworm Club in which 48 at-risk girls in first and second grades take part. Funding for that program, she said, came in the form of a United Way grant on top of its regular allocation.
Spencer McCall, executive director of the YMCA, ticked off scores of children who would not be able to participate in programs without money from the local organization.
On the Westside, he said, 75 students attend a year-round program with the help of United Way. In East Ridge, 47 more take part in a summer camp and afterschool program. Elsewhere, 84 preschool children have a program because of organization funds.
Such funds are administered "efficiently" and "provide the best possible outcome for Chattanooga," said A.J. Hernandez, director for the East Ridge YMCA program.
Lebovitz, who enlisted the Howard band to play a rousing version of The Temptations' "Get Ready" to conclude the meeting, said her goal was "getting people excited about the campaign."
Those in attendance become "stronger ambassadors" for the campaign and the organization, she said.