The United Way of Aiken County transformed the First Presbyterian Church of Aiken's Family Life Center into a circus tent on Friday for the kickoff of its 2014 fundraising campaign, which has a goal of $2,611,450.


“We increased the amount slightly from 2013's goal due to more needs in our community,” said United Way President Sharon Rodgers. “Of course, we always hope to exceed our goal because the more we raise, the more folks we can help.”


“United Way Under the Big Top” was the theme for the lunchtime event, which featured clowns, a magician and plenty of blue, red and yellow balloons, and people dressed as tigers.


Aiken County Councilman Andrew Siders, wearing a black and red coat along with a top hat, served as the ringmaster. The audience munched on cotton candy, peanuts, popcorn, hamburgers and hotdogs.


Former Aiken City Manager Richard Pearce gave the festive occasion a “two thumbs up” review.


“It was one of the best ones yet,” he told Rodgers.


The gala ended with Siders teaming up with the pretend tigers to reveal the campaign's fundraising goal while Katy Perry's hit pop song “Roar” played.


As Siders cracked a whip, seven of the eight tigers each held up an orange hoop with a sign attached that showed a number. The remaining tiger had a hoop with a sign that had a dollar sign on it. They revealed the $2,611,450 goal for 2014.


“I feel really super,” said Rodgers when asked about the prospects for the 2014 campaign's success. “This community is so very generous, and I think it will once again rally around the United Way, our agencies, our programs and the people who need a helping hand.”


The goal for the United Way's 2013 campaign was $2,524,850, and the organization exceeded that amount, raising $2,938,009.


The 2012 campaigned generated an all-time high of $3,005,584.


Sharon Cormier, who is the second vice-chair for the 2014 campaign, was one of the tigers. She is the lead criminal investigator for WSI-SRS.


“This is fabulous,” Cormier said. “Every year I get excited about the campaign. I have been involved with the United Way for most of my career at WSI, but I didn't really get fully engrossed in it until I served as a loaned professional in 2006. I love it, and it's something that I want to be a part of. I think it's important.”


A United Way partner agency fair was held in conjunction with this year's fundraising campaign kickoff.


There were a number of booths that attendees could visit to learn more about the organizations that receive funds from the United Way.


“I think it's an excellent idea to do this fair,” said Gayle Lofgren, executive director of the Child Advocacy Center of Aiken County. “A lot of people who are here today help fund the United Way, and it's good for them to get to know the programs that their money is supporting.”


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