To infinity and beyond: United Way of Aiken County launches 2023 fundraising campaign

Aug. 25—GRANITEVILLE — Inspired by the "Toy Story" media franchise, which features characters such as Buzz Lightyear and Woody, the United Way of Aiken County kicked off its 2023 fundraising campaign Friday at the Aiken County Family YMCA.

There were speeches during the lunchtime event, and students from the East Aiken School of the Arts told jokes and sang.

In addition, many of the United Way's partner agencies, including Mental Health America of Aiken County and Area Churches Together Serving, participated in a fair beforehand to educate attendees about the types of services they offer.

For Ellen Luton, the fundraising campaign will be her first as the United Way's president and chief professional officer.

In July, Luton succeeded Sharon Rodgers, who had been in charge since 2007.

"I'm excited," Luton said. "I feel we've had excellent leadership, and she (Rodgers) left us in really good hands. I have an excellent staff who can do things out of this world, to infinity and beyond."

Luton added that having an agency fair as part of Friday's campaign kickoff "kind of embodies the fact that we are living united. All of our partners work together to help the vulnerable citizens of Aiken County."

P.K. Hightower, a United Way board member and chair of multiple committees, expressed her confidence in Luton and also Geneva Wright, who replaced Luton as the United Way's director of resource management following her promotion.

"These two ladies have our full support," said Hightower, a Savannah River Nuclear Solutions manager. "I know it is going to be a seamless transition."

The United Way's fundraising goal this year is $2,201,759.

In 2022, the campaign generated more than $2.4 million.

Cody Anderson, who dressed up as Woody for Friday's kickoff, is the 2023 campaign's chair.

"You have a friend in the United Way" is the theme.

"This is fun," said Anderson, who is the owner and manager of George Funeral Home and Cremation Center. "It takes me back to my childhood a little bit."

Anderson's cowboy attire was "a little more rugged than I'm used to, but we are in horse country," he said.

Josh Booth of Security Federal Bank had on a Buzz Lightyear costume.

"The campaign is a big deal," he said. "Everybody puts in time and effort, and every dollar we raise goes to help somebody in need who is less fortunate than us. I love the United Way. I couldn't be happier to be here."

For more information about the United Way, call 803-648-8331 or visit

The United Way's headquarters, the Sharon L. Rodgers Community Resource Center, is at 159 Morgan St. N.W.