Cardboard Boat Race Launches United Way Campaign

Photo credit: Sharon Fuente, Lifesong Photography
Posted Friday, September 2, 2022 3:56 pm
BY MARIE NESMITH The Daily Tribune News

For Carla Mahan, seeing her husband dressed as a Disney character while steering a makeshift raft surprisingly was not the only extraordinary happening at Pine Acres Retreat. On Aug. 27, the United Way of Bartow County’s second annual Cardboard Boat Race featured 13 decked out vessels trying to stay afloat while racing on Lake Allatoona.

“I was excited and on the edge of my seat the entire time,” said Mahan, owner of Mahan Properties and a local United Way board member. “I was announcing and cheering all at the same time. I was proud and honored to be part of such an amazing event.

“We had three boats entered into the race — one boat from Pack 24, which won People’s Choice; one boat from Troop 24G who won first place in the timed event; and one boat from Troop 24B who won third place in the timed event. The internal rivalry was epic. Bragging rights were definitely on the line.”

Fashioned out of cardboard, Pack 24’s vessel featured a “Moana” theme, with the captains transforming themselves into Maui — the animated film’s demigod.

“The boat captains were dressed as Maui and in full costume — wig and muscles included,” Mahan said. “We posed a cardboard Moana on the shore in hopes to recreate the scene in the movie when Maui leaves Moana on the island as they ‘raced’ away.

“My husband was the first to point out that our family is involved with many of the organizations that are helped through the United Way, such as our Scout units. Although hesitant at first, my husband, Patrick, and another leader, Jesse Smith, wore the Maui costume with pride and enthusiasm. I thought I was at [a] movie premiere at one point because so many people were coming up to take pictures with them and the boat.”

As Mahan noted, BSA Troop 24G’s Trinity Atkins and Kimberly Guerra won the overall race with a time of 1:44:92. This was an exciting feat for her to watch, especially since her daughter, RileyAnn, is a member of the troop chartered by the Cartersville Rotary Club.

“I was so thrilled,” she said. “Mostly because our girls’ troop showed up and showed out. As a female myself, and with a daughter in the troop, I felt a giant sense of pride when our ‘girls’ beat all of the ‘boys.’

“Although our boys and girls work quite well together, there is always a fun banter between units when it comes to internal competitions. It was great to see the girls’ troop walk away with full bragging rights, at least until next year anyway.”

Along with the three Scouting vessels, the Cardboard Boat Race featured entries from the United Way of Bartow County, Love Travels Beyond, The Bookmobile — Reading to Go Places, 4-H of Bartow County, Civil Air Patrol, Goodwill, Shaw Plant 13, Cartersville-Bartow County Convention & Visitors Bureau and Hickory Log Vocational School. Civil Air Patrol entered two boats in the race.

“Each team had to take their cardboard boat across the cove, change captains and then come back across the cove to the starting point,” said Brenda Morehouse, president of the local United Way. “Last year, no boats sank, and we were excited about that but it may not have been quite as entertaining.

“Everyone really had a good time and this year some boats did sink. It was really fun to watch the races and listen to the crowd cheer those on that kept paddling even though their boat was going down. It was really a great event and everyone had fantastic sportsmanship.”

United Way’s Cardboard Boat Race launched the organization’s fundraising campaign. Titled “Give Today for a Better Tomorrow,” the annual drive is striving to secure $525,000 from Sept. 1 to Dec. 15.

The campaign’s funds will be distributed to United Way’s partner agencies, which include Advocates for Children, Bartow County 4-H, Boys & Girls Clubs of Bartow County, American Red Cross of Northwest Georgia, Christian League for Battered Women/Tranquility House, Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter, The Salvation Army, Tonsmeire Community Clinic, Allatoona Resource Center, Hickory Log Vocational School, North Bartow Community Services and The Bookmobile. The United Way also awarded a one-time grant to Northwest Georgia BSA.

“The second annual Cardboard Boat Race was a great way to kick off this year’s annual giving campaign,” Morehouse said. “It brought awareness to the campaign to companies, the general public and any nonprofits looking to partner with United Way.

“It’s always good to have a campaign kickoff and we really haven’t been able to have one the past couple of years because of the pandemic. So this was a perfect way to get this year’s campaign started.”

As in past years, United Way’s campaign is primarily acquiring funds through payroll deductions. This enables employees to donate a minimal amount yearlong, with a portion of their paycheck designated to the local United Way.

“I encourage all businesses to get involved in the community,” Morehouse said. “It can be anything as simple as a can drive for a food pantry. If you reach out to your local United Way, we can help your business or any large manufacturer put together a community engagement project.

“It’s what we do and we do it well. I hope that with all the new businesses coming to Bartow County that the buzz around this year’s campaign kickoff event will help get the word out that we are here and that we need your support.”

In addition to rolling out the United Way’s campaign, the Cardboard Boat Race served as a fundraiser for Love Travels Beyond and The Bookmobile — both of which competed in the benefit. The event generated $1,500 for each of the two nonprofits.

“The part that I enjoyed the most was the sense of community at the event,” said Scottlin Smith, founder of Love Travels. “It was nothing but laughs and smiling the entire event.”

The Cartersville resident is grateful for the United Way offering, which helped bolster funds and awareness for her organization.

“The more people that knows about our mission, the more love that can be spread in our community,” she said. “Our community fundraisers support our nonprofit, so it means a lot to receive community support.”

Established five years ago, Love Travels was founded by Smith when she was a student at the University of West Georgia. Its purpose is to spread “love to as many people as possible through community service,” Smith shared.

“Our entire board grew up in the Cartersville City School System,” Smith said. “We all had teachers, mentors, coaches and adults in the community that helped us get to where we are. We would like to pay if forward and spread that same love to the youth in our community. You also never know what someone is going through. We seek to be the change, help our neighbors and build our community up.

“We help hundreds of girls in need each prom season. We provide Christmas for over two dozen families each holiday season. We engage and unofficially mentor hundreds of youth each year,” she said, referring earlier to two of her organization’s offerings: the Belles of the Ball prom dress giveaway and the Charity Basketball Tournament holiday fundraiser.

Along with promoting their efforts via social media —  LoveTravels101 on Facebook and LoveTravelsBartow on Instagram — Love Travels recently opened a new office at 911 N Bartow St., Suite 108, in Cartersville.

Like Love Travels, The Bookmobile also is helping area youth reach their full potential.

The Bookmobile first focused its efforts in south Bartow and has expanded its reach over the past five years. Throughout 2020 and 2021, the literacy organization gave away a total of nearly 13,750 books. In 2019, 700 books were checked out, 152 new Bookmobile library cards were issued and 3,610 books were distributed to families.

“As the main book purchaser, I am extremely proud of providing a variety of books that represent all people and life experiences,” said Kim Dennis, cofounder and program director for The Bookmobile. “Books, like mirrors, help reflect what we observe and know about the world we live in. It’s powerful to read or listen to a story about someone like you.

“Books also allow us to view and understand lives that are different from our own, like a window onto other experiences. But to succeed as mirrors and windows, books must tell a wide range of stories—and they must include a diversity of people and worlds. At The Bookmobile — Reading to go Places, we’re committed to increasing access to inclusive books for young people of all races and backgrounds. These kinds of books help all children understand the bigger world and where they fit in.”

Since its inception, Dennis shared The Bookmobile has supplied “26,175 age-appropriate brand new books for home libraries to children” across Bartow.

“The Bookmobile began in July 2017,” said Valerie Gilreath, cofounder and president of The Bookmobile. “We saw a need for a program to augment services provided by the schools and the local government to help families break the cycle of generational poverty. Education is the key to interrupting that cycle, and early reading is the surest way to promote academic success.

“Getting books into the hands of children before they start school and teaching and encouraging parents to read to their preschool-age children builds the language and literacy skills kids need to be ready for school and to excel once they get there. Then keeping kids reading for pleasure as they grow maintains that success and spurs them toward graduation.”

In addition to its mobile library, The Bookmobile gives away books at various events; promotes reading at community gatherings, visits to after-school offerings and child-care facilities; operates more than 40 Little Free Libraries; and locally oversees Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

“Studies have shown that the most significant factor influencing a child’s early school success is exposure to books and being read to at home prior to beginning school,” Gilreath said. “Children who enjoy reading typically do better in school and are more likely to graduate and go on to be financially stable adults. This is something I knew intuitively because I saw it work in my own life. I credit early reading with putting me on a path to success, a different path than many in my extended family.

“I don’t have to look very far to find examples of how children and adults struggle without strong language and literacy development. Literacy changes lives and is one of the surest ways to interrupt a cycle of generational poverty.”

She also underscored the “immediate benefits” increased literacy can have on youth and their families.

“Books provide quiet and calm; offer entertainment, comfort and companionship; provoke discussion and curiosity; stimulate imagination and play; impart knowledge; give parents more opportunities to bond with their children; and so much more,” she said.

Echoing Smith’s comments, Gilreath also extended thanks to the United Way and its Cardboard Boat Race supporters.

“The Bookmobile is funded through individual donations, business donations, grants and fundraising events,” she said. “It means a great deal to receive support from the community and United Way through events, such as the Cardboard Boat Race because we are dependent on the generosity of the community to continue providing services.

“Thank you. I know time and money are finite resources, and there are lots of demands on both for everyone. We are honored that so many chose to spend their time, money and effort in support of our organization.”

For more information about The Bookmobile and its upcoming fall fundraisers, visit or its Facebook page, email or call 470-315-0339. Further details about the United Way and its campaign can be obtained by calling 770-386-1677 or visiting