YMCA Campaign kickoff on Wed. at the YMCA. Keynote speaker Paula Hawkins. Photo by Bill Wilson / The Anniston Star

The YMCA of Calhoun County kicked off its annual fundraising campaign Wednesday during a lunch event at its downtown Anniston headquarters, with a goal of $200,000.

Money raised in the campaign will allow local individuals and families in need to become members or participate in after-school programs, youth sports and youth summer camps, said Andy Carden, who co-chairs the fundraiser with Jimmy Jenkins.

The campaign encourages YMCA members to form teams, knock on doors and reach out to people they know to gather donations, Jenkins said.

Carden said both children and adults will benefit, but the fundraiser’s primary focus is children. Last year, Carden said, the campaign raised up to $195,000 and served 5,633 people.

While the official fundraising goal is $200,000, Carden said, he hopes organizers will receive around $220,000 in donations to cover the entirety of the county YMCA’s scholarship expenses for the year. Carden said the fundraiser began Wednesday and will last through the end of March.

“If we don’t make that, then the Y is dipping into their funds to meet the needs of the community,” Carden said. “There are a lot more needs that, if we had the money, we could meet.”

At around 1 p.m. Wednesday, Carden said, YMCA volunteers had already formed about 20 teams and raised $88,162.

Jenkins said the scholarships give more children a place to go and shows them “the better part” of their community.

“If they’re in here having fun with kids their age and playing around, everybody’s staying out of trouble,” Jenkins said.

Having been involved since the age of 6, Carden said, he has seen firsthand how the YMCA benefits children. Carden said he was sent to YMCA Camp Hamilton near Jacksonville in 1971, shortly after his parents divorced.

“I learned how to swim there. I learned how to hike and enjoy the outdoors and to canoe,” Carden said. “It was a really good time for me, and I want to give back to this community.”

YMCA member Paula Hawkins, who typically works out at the Oxford location, served as a guest speaker at the kickoff. When Hawkins joined in 2012, she said, she was pleasantly surprised by how welcoming the staff were.

“With their friendliness, their support, their encouragement, I can stand here and I can tell you I am an active member of this YMCA,” Hawkins said. “I love all of it.”

Because she considers the YMCA her “happy place,” Hawkins said, she wants to extend that happiness to others.

“It is such a wonderful place to spend my time,” Hawkins said. “I want to get people to the Y, so it can stay and be what this community needs it to be ... I want people to be part of this community.”

Contact Staff Writer Amalia Kortright at 256-235-3563.