The United Way of Aiken County didn't set a record during its 2013 fundraising campaign. But the organization collected its second-highest amount ever even though it faced challenges such as the federal budget sequestration, numerous layoffs and furloughs at the Savannah River Site and local residents' continuing concern about the health of the economy.

The grand total was $2,938,009, which exceeded the pre-campaign goal of $2,524,850. In 2012, the amount reached an all-time high of $3,005,584.

United Way President Sharon Rodgers called 2013's result “a testament to the generosity of this community” during the organization's annual meeting and awards ceremony on Thursday night at Newberry Hall.

The theme for the evening was “Night at the Races,” and the event ended with the Burns Studio Dancers performing to the song “New York, New York.” Wearing green and white jockeys' caps and carrying stick horses, they unveiled 2013's final fundraising campaign figure.

“In spite of all the difficulties in 2013, the compassion here for those less fortunate was just overwhelming,” Rodgers said. “It takes your breath away to know how much people care. We're just so blessed to live in Aiken.”

Stephanie Franklin was honored as the 2013 Russell A. Foret Volunteer of the Year. Jeff Wallace, the previous year's winner and a former editor of the Aiken Standard, presented the award.

“If you need a dependable volunteer, if you need sound advice, if you need a role model, if you need a great friend, our (2013) volunteer of the year is your person,” said Wallace, who was the United Way's 2012 board chairman and is an outgoing board member.

Franklin was surprised by the honor.

“I wasn't even coming tonight, but Sharon (Rodgers) asked me to do the invocation and I told her, 'Yes,'” Franklin said.

“I had no idea it was going to happen, but then I recognized some of the things that were being said (prior to the award winner's name being announced), and I thought, 'It sounds like me.' Then I gave Sharon eye contact, and she started smiling. I thought, 'Oh my God,' and my heart started beating so fast.”

Franklin is the EEO and diversity manager for Savannah River Remediation. In 2000, as the Savannah River Site's United Way fundraising chair, she led a campaign that generated nearly $1.2 million.

Franklin currently serves as the chair of the United Way's Providing Assistance in Crisis Care Council and has recently agreed to be vice chair of the new Women in Philanthropy exploratory committee.

Franklin was a United Way board member from 2004 until 2009, locally, and she rejoined the board last year. She is a United Way Association of South Carolina board member and serves on a number of statewide committees.

“I can't put into words what it means to me,” said Franklin of the award. “I love Aiken County, and I have been a part of the United Way for almost 20 years, so it's very special.”

Other 2013 honorees included Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, winner of the Highest Overall Campaign Award, and Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations and Kimberly Clark Corporation, both of which received the Stanley A. Quarles Memorial Community Spirit Award.

Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard.