It has been nearly two months since the Lake Martin Area United Way kicked off its “Roads to a Better Future” fundraising campaign and Friday, executive director Sharon Fuller said the organization is almost halfway to its goal of $535,000.
Before Fuller got to the numbers, she invited Lake Martin Area United Way intern Teya Waites, 21, to share her story of benefiting from many of the agencies the United Way serves.
“She is just one of just over 25,000 that was helped last year by the United Way in Tallapoosa County,” Fuller said.
Waites’ story starts in north Alabama when she was 14 playing high school volleyball and living in a home with her biological father and stepmother, both of whom took a liking to her sister.
“It started when I was a freshman in high school. My stepmom did not like me but liked by sister. That is where my problem started,” Waites said. “She got into my dad’s head. I was playing volleyball my sophomore year. They kicked me off the team. Thanksgiving rolls around, my birthday is just after that, we didn’t celebrate it. Christmas rolls around, I watched my siblings open presents. Christmas night we get back, they kick me out of my room so I am sleeping on the couch.”
Waites said after that, time at home was spent sitting in the floor facing a wall being told when to go to bed and wake up and how long she had to eat and clean up the kitchen before getting paddled.
Waites said she had a torn ACL/PCL and needed knee surgery but was told by her father and stepmother she was fat, needed to exercise and diet.
“Some of the exercises involved me on my knees with my hands above my head holding a 40-pound box,” Waites said. “I would just stay there. My arms would collapse most of the time. I also have asthma and they would make me run at least 3 miles each day. I lost the weight but never got the surgery. These punishments kept going and going. I continued to sit on the floor. They told me, ‘You are not going anywhere in life. This is tough love. You are a bad daughter.’”
Waites said her father and stepmom framed her for possession of a controlled substance and got her arrested – it was a start to a better life.
“In the back of the cop car I was crying, emotional,” Waites said. “(The officer) told me I can see that you have a light in your eyes; you have a future; you are going to come through this; you are going to do great things. He believed in me. I went through the whole thing. I got an ankle monitor, anger management, counseling – all of the things you can put a person in, I went through.”
Waites said she landed at the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch using the agencies the United Way supports after spending 21 days in a group home.
“If I was not not arrested I wouldn’t know any of these people,” Waites said. “I ended up at the ranch. That first day at the ranch, I sat in the living room with my house parents and my lawyer and I cried. I was going to have a life. I was going to be free.”
Waites was breaking away from the mental abuse of her family.
“They were happy they took my life away,” Waites said. “They told me I had no future, wouldn’t go to college, get married; they didn’t believe in me. They took that from me and were happy.
I lived at the ranch for like four years. I got that knee surgery. I got my driver’s license. I got new parents.”
Waites’ new family has led to a future.
“Those house parents that first day, that is who I call Mom and Dad,” Waites said. “My dad walked me down the aisle on my wedding day. My mom was my maid of honor on my wedding day.
“They thought they took something from me but they didn’t. The ranch saved me and we use the counseling, the food bank. You all help in all that. I’m going to Auburn. I got married.
“I’m beating those odds they took from me.”
Fuller said even though she has now heard Waites’ story at many of the campaign presentations, Fuller still finds herself in tears.
“This is why we give,” Fuller said. “We have them coming through the door hungry, homeless and needing the electricity cut back on.”
Fuller and co-campaign chair Nancy Ammons said the United Way had raised $248,691 for 47% of its goal so far.
“All of y’all have been very busy,” Fuller said.
Fuller said a few businesses completed their campaigns including pacesetter the City of Alexander City which raised $33,000.01. Fuller said the Alexander City Board of Education raised $18,313; Russell Medical raised $30,552; the India Davis Team had raised $10,000; and Russell Brands raised $20,411.
Many businesses have ongoing campaigns and Ammons said Russell Lands has already raised $51,860.
The United Way’s Courtney Layfield said there are several upcoming campaigns including Gabby Witherington’s 100-hole Golf Marathon Monday where he hopes to raise $5,500
“It is a unique fundraiser that helps us tremendously,” Layfield said.
Fuller said United Way staff still has many presentations to give including to employees of Pediatrics Associates of Alexander City, Thompson Tractor, Alexander City Kiwanis Club, Alexander City Rotary Club and Leadership Lake Martin.
Fuller said she is especially proud of individuals who have given to the campaign.
“These are leaders in our community,” Fuller said. “There are about 150 of them and they have given about 47% of the total of the campaign so far.”