United Way’s 2021 Class of Loaned Executives is ready to make a difference

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Photo via United Way of Central Alabama

Earlier this week, I interviewed six of the 27 class of 2021 United Way of Central Alabama Loaned Executives on a morning Zoom call. 

Now, I’ve got to admit, I’m not a big fan of Zoom calls.  Like many of us in the age of COVID-19, they are usually long, dry, uneventful and often boring.

What was my call like with this newly minted group of Loaned Executives from Birmingham’s most recognizable corporations? 

Inspirational.

That’s right. Let me set the stage.

What is the United Way Loaned Executive Program?

United Way
UWCA Loaned Executives (L to R) Tanya Brown,Elizabeth Campbell, William Kendall and Erica McKelvey. Photo via United Way of Central Alabama

One of the reasons the United Way of Central Alabama is ranked annually as one of top nonprofits in the nation is because of programs like their Loaned Executive Program.

Each year, United Way of Central Alabama asks local businesses and organizations throughout the six-county region to select valued employees to participate in the Loaned Executive Program for 13 weeks. This year, 27 executives from all walks of life in the Birmingham community stepped forward to serve.

“We are a lean operation and we ask businesses and corporations to “lend us their best” for 13 weeks to act as extensions of our fundraising operations,” said John Martin, SVP Annual Campaign for United Way. “They make personal contact with our donor organizations, explain the needs in the community and help rally support to improve the quality of life for all residents in the six county area. We have a very supportive community and that support in this area is one key to a successful campaign.  In turn, we provide a unique community based leadership development program for the executive and their organization.”

The Zoom Call

United Way
Zoom call between Bham Now’s Pat Byington (center-top) and UWCA Loaned Executives. Photo via United Way of Central Alabama

The current group of Loaned Executives began their program two weeks ago. For this story, my goal was to learn how their training was progressing, what they discovered about United Way (including any surprises) and why this program matters. 

We promptly started our meeting at 10:00AM. 

The six Loaned Executive participants on the ZOOM were:

  • Erica McKelvey – Alabama Power
  • Tanya Brown – Spire
  • William Kendall – Regions Bank
  • Elizabeth Campbell – Encompass Health
  • Yvette Harper – Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama
  • Matt Schrecongost – Protective Life

Here are excerpts from our 30 minute high energy conversation.

The Training

United Way
Photo via United Way of Central Alabama

“Send us your best and we send them back better” — that is one of the mottos of the United Way Loaned Executive Program. Our participants agreed wholeheartedly. They learn not only about United Way, but they receive Dale Carnegie professional presentation training and they take personal assessment tests.

“The training has been phenomenal. Everyone in our loan executive program has grown and benefited. It’s made me a better leader and public speaker.” ~ William Kendall – Regions Bank

“I didn’t expect this level of training and was pleasantly surprised by it. Even being in corporate America for well over 30 years. It was high intensity for the first two weeks. I’m very excited to be a part of it.”  ~ Yvette Harper – Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama

Learning About the United Way of Central Alabama

Even though the executives have contributed to United Way over the years, to a person, they have been struck by the depth and importance of the organization’s work.

“For me personally, I now have  a better understanding of the reach that the United Way and  their  partner organizations have in our community. I had some gaps. Now, I’m aware of just how important all these organizations are, especially across the six local counties in Central Alabama – Matt Schrecongost – Protective Life

Meeting the Community’s Needs

When we talked about the needs of the community, the talk on the ZOOM became very passionate and because of the pandemic — urgent.

United Way
UWCA Loaned Executive Elizabeth Campbell with Encompass Health. Photo via United Way of Central Alabama

“I’ve been really focusing a lot on the impact of the pandemic. I like to say that it didn’t start problems in Central Alabama but it’s accelerated problems. One terrifying fact that I learned was that food insecurity in Central Alabama has increased by 35%. That’s 35%! We were already struggling to feed all the hungry people in Central Alabama and now it’s just getting worse. So again, the need is much more urgent than it’s ever been.” ~ Elizabeth Campbell – Encompass Health

“The COVID response by the United Way’s Bold Goals Coalition that addressed  the learning loss gap with our kids, has had a huge, huge impact because it’s so needed, especially here in our state. I have small kids, so I understand the learning loss and the gap especially with virtual so that was a huge COVID response initiative to me.” ~ Erica McKelvey – Alabama Power

United Way
UWCA Loaned Executive Erica McKelvey. Photo via United Way of Central Alabama

“The funds are raised by the community, but they’re also allocated by the community. We have a volunteer community (Volunteer Allocation Teams) that actually decides where these funds go. It’s not the United Way picking and choosing what organizations they think would be best. It’s volunteers from our community who really decide where these funds are allocated. ~ ~ William Kendall – Regions Bank

Supporting United Way Beyond the Loaned Executive Program

United Way of Central Alabama
Entrance to the United Way of Central Alabama offices in Birmingham, Alabama. Photo via Pat Byington for Bham Now

Near the end of the half-hour interview with the loaned executives, one thing was clear.  The United Way Loaned Executive program may end after 13 weeks, but it will not with these executives. They are already planning to advocate and support the  United Way  well beyond the program.

“For me, after the campaign, I believe that it (United Way) will be a conversation that I hope will continue. I believe in going into the communities, sharing stories, educating people on what the United Way does — encouraging people to understand that these agencies need to be supported. My hope is that people understand the importance of keeping United Way active in the community long after we’re no longer the loan executives.” ~ Tanya Brown – Spire

Live United

At the conclusion of the Zoom call, I could only think of one word that described our meeting and the 2021 Class  of United Way of Central Alabama Loaned Executives.

UNITED.

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Pat Byington
Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.
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