United Way Fox Cities virtual event looks back, ahead

Posted on Apr 27, 2021 :: Insight on Business, Web Exclusive
Jessica Thiel
Posted by of Insight Publications

The United Way Fox Cities reflected on a year of challenges and shared a look ahead at today’s virtual Annual Report to the Community event.

UWFC’s 2020 Community Campaign brought in $8.4 million, and the organization’s COVID-19 Community Response Fund, created in partnership with the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, raised $1.7 million, $1.6 million of which has been reinvested back into the community through grants to 106 nonprofits.

Sandy Drexler, vice president of resource development for UWFC, said community donors and businesses have continued to give generously, even in a time of economic hardship for many. She highlighted the story of Rich Batley, owner of the Best Western Premier Bridgewood Resort Hotel & Conference Center and two other hotel properties. Though the hotel industry suffered a difficult year, and it took an all-hands-on-deck effort to keep his hotels going, Batley and his wife supported UWFC at the Tocqueville Leadership level, which recognizes givers who donate $10,000 or more.

“Rather than saying let’s do less, they said let’s do more,” Drexler said.

UWFC, like so many other organizations, had to change the way it delivered services and provided programming, all during a time of increased community need. The Fox Cities Diaper Bank, which usually serves 900 families per year, served 1,000 in 2020. With the help of Kimberly-Clark Corp., UWFC also donated 900,000 diapers and incontinence products to people throughout Wisconsin.

Tony Gonzalez, vice president of community development for UWFC, shared how the organization helped employers including ThedaCare address concerns about access to child care for health care and other essential workers as well as services to reach older adults. The nonprofit formed a Community Solutions team to address the most pressing issues and created the Give Help, Get Help Hub to connect those in need to services and resources.

“We knew that alone we didn’t hold the solutions to those complex issues but that together, our community’s strong network of caring providers, which at its peak was more than 80 organizations, we thought we could meet the challenge,” he said.

Nonprofit organizations including homeless shelter Pillars and Partnership Community Health Center rely on UWFC’s financial support. Pillars had to temporarily place clients in a hotel when physical distancing requirements became necessary, while Partnership has continued to help those in need with health care, mental health and wellbeing services.

Gonzalez said while the community has come a long way, challenges lie ahead areas including mental health, child care and housing. UWFC has brought on new partners CASA of the Fox Cities, which advocates for abused and neglected children in local courts, and Rebuilding Together Fox Valley, a nonprofit dedicated to safe and healthy housing.

UWFC has reinstated its grant process that was paused when it switched its focus to meeting the most pressing needs of the pandemic. It also continues to do anti-racism and diversity and inclusion work.

Peter Kelly, who’s retiring from his 23-year tenure leading UWFC, reflected on his time with the organization. His major accomplishments include helping establish United Way’s 2-1-1, the Fox Cities Diaper Bank and PATH (Providing Access to Healing) for Students.

Kelly said United Way’s mission of building a stronger, more caring community for everyone has guided him throughout his tenure. “When I wake up every morning with that mission as my north star, is it any wonder that this is a great job?” he said.

Peter Gianopoulos, who previously worked for 25 years for Thrivent in various roles, is succeeding Kelly as president and CEO of UWFC.