Building the United Way team | Johnny Crain selected as campaign chair

Published 7:35 am Sunday, August 5, 2012

The United Way’s Washington Parish Regional Office has selected a well-known figure to lead its 2012 campaign effort: Johnny Crain, newly retired from the office of clerk of court.

Even before his retirement began, Crain had the desire to get more involved in community service, he said.

“I retired from public office and I always said that I was going to do some volunteer work and give back to the community, which I love dearly,” he said.

Shortly before he stepped down as clerk, a couple of United Way representatives came into his office and brought up the possibly of him being named campaign chairman, Crain said. He spoke with the agency’s 16-member board and Bobby Tanner, Leadership Council chair for Washington Parish and a member of the Board of Trustees for United Way of Southeast Louisiana, about the position.

“I told them to give me a couple of weeks to let me think about it,” he said.

During that time, Crain met with Charlotte Champagne, executive director of the Washington Parish Regional office, and discussed ways the organization could potentially grow, including the possibility of bringing some more organizations under the United Way umbrella.

“I’ve been involved with United Way since 1962, and it’s very, very dear to my heart,” he said, adding that he is excited to become a part of the United Way team.

United Way does not give direct assistance to individuals, Champagne said. Rather, it provides funding to various agencies that help people, she said. The organizations that receive funding, Tanner said, are held accountable and are required “to demonstrate that they’re meeting their stated goals and objectives.”

The agency, Tanner said, supports Washington Parish agencies that provide needed services to parish residents.

“The affiliation that we have with the Southeast Louisiana United Way does not take away from that,” he said. “It supports us. It provides us oversight, guidance and resources that we wouldn’t have otherwise.”

During a six-week process, the decision was made to allocate funding to 11 organizations with 16 programs, which will get the assistance each quarter, Champagne said.

Among the beneficiaries of the funding will be the YMCA’s first-ever afterschool tutoring program, Champagne said.

“That’s one of the big impact platforms that United Way stresses is early childhood literacy, and afterschool tutoring is a big component of kids succeeding,” she said.

A campaign is held each year, and the goal is set at $175,000 this time around, Tanner said. Additionally, a campaign chair is always selected to serve as the “public face” of the effort. Tanner and his wife were the campaign chairs in 2003, and that experience is what led him to get more involved in the organization, he said. Where he had previously been a donor, he then started serving on the board, he said.

“Every year we have a campaign chair,” he said. “This year we asked Mr. Johnny to do it. We knew he had just retired, and we know everybody in the community knows and respects him. We thought that if he bought into the United Way then everybody else, hopefully, would follow his lead.”

In one of the key elements of the campaign, Champagne and the United Way representatives will visit local workplaces and ask employees to make an impact in their community by contributing, she said. Those who are unable to give financially can get involved in other ways — advocating and volunteering — she said. The new campaign chairman is a good example of advocacy in action, she said.

“I say Johnny’s our chief advocate right now,” she said. “He got involved because he felt very passionate about Nellie Byers and the Washington Activity Center, and everywhere he goes he’s saying that. I think that is so worthwhile, so valuable when you’re out there in the community talking about why you’re involved with United Way.”

A kickoff luncheon for this year’s United Way campaign will be held Sept. 5 at noon at ESM United Methodist Church in Bogalusa, with LSU head basketball coach Johnny Jones as the guest speaker. For more information, call the United Way office at 732-2305 or contact Champagne at

During the campaign, which will run from September until December, pledge cards will be distributed to the individuals in the workplaces the United Way visits, and they will be asked to make the decision about contributing. The pledges begin Jan. 1, 2013, and that is when the money will start to come out of the employee’s paycheck, she said. Additionally, a company will sometimes elect to give a corporate gift rather than asking the employees to donate, she said.

Crain said he is looking into new areas for the organization to explore, including local government, and that he wanted to emphasize “the money that’s collected in Washington Parish stays in Washington Parish.”

“I’m very honored that this particular United Way board asked me to be the chairman of this drive,” he said. “I’m excited about it. I’m going to venture to open up new doors to new businesses.”