Three Regions associates share their “why” for stepping into leadership roles in their local United Way campaigns.
By Candace Higginbotham
United Way campaigns are underway throughout the Regions Bank footprint.
The bank has a long history with the organization. During last year’s campaign, Regions contributed $7.2 million to more than 150 United Way agencies across our footprint. And $5.1 million of that came from Regions associates.
Regions associates also provide thousands of hours of volunteer time at United Way agencies each year.
But many associates take it one step further and put their passion, leadership and organizational skills to work to support their local campaigns.
We wanted to hear from some of these United Way influencers and learn what drives them to serve at this level and why more of us should consider taking part. These are their words:
Cleo Crawford, Learning and Development specialist, Birmingham, Alabama
How It Started
I began volunteering about 10 years ago through Regions and met Susan Clowdus and Lee Ann Petty. They took me under their wing and encouraged me to get more involved with the United Way. Until that time, I didn’t realize how much the United Way of Central Alabama does for the surrounding counties and communities. The UWCA plays a role in almost every aspect of our community. They are not there just during a crisis, but they are there to assist in everyday needs.
During the summer of 2020, my father got sick unexpectedly and was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure. My family was introduced to the Alabama Kidney Foundation, which is a United Way agency that serves kidney patients. We lost my dad the next year, but I am forever grateful that they were able to assist us when we needed it. Until my dad’s sickness, my family never used a United Way agency. But that experience made me even more committed to the United Way.
I believe in giving back with my time as well as my money. I also believe in teaching our children to become advocates and volunteers as soon as possible so that they have a greater appreciation of mankind and an understanding that it takes a village to make life better.
How It’s Going
I served as a United Way loaned executive during the 2020 campaign, which was an awesome and challenging experience. Because of COVID, we had to pivot and do most meetings virtually – a first experience for all of us. I was also selected to be a loaned executive for the 2022 Pacesetter Campaign, and that was even more challenging because of the large fundraising target. But we surpassed our goal!
Being a loaned executive is a great experience for professional development and leadership. It’s an opportunity to stretch yourself and strengthen your communication skills. You spend so much time with your team and get to make lasting connections and friendships. You also hear stories from individuals and families who have utilized United Way agencies. Those are heart-breaking, but for me it reaffirmed my dedication.
Another pivotal event in my United Way history was being invited to the first meeting of the J. Mason Davis Leadership Society, a United Way affinity group for African American members with a common passion to positively influence our communities through volunteerism, advocacy, and philanthropy. When I heard Mr. Davis speak, I knew I had to be a part of keeping his legacy going strong. He is a living icon to the African American community in Birmingham with a strong passion for early childhood education to give our young people better opportunities. Now I’m proudly serving as chairperson of the J. Mason Davis Leadership Society.
How You Can Help
I highly recommend that Birmingham-area Regions associates get involved with the J. Mason Leadership Society or other local United Way affinity groups. And no matter where you are in the footprint, you can be a part of the Visiting Allocation Team program to learn more about the different programs and how they are benefiting our community. It is a great way to get directly involved in helping determine how donor dollars are being invested.
Maggie Gilcrease, Treasury Managment Relationship Team advisor, Sheveport, Lousiana
How It Started
I’m currently in my ninth year as Shreveport/Bossier City campaign chair, supporting the United Way of Northwest Louisiana. During those first campaigns I led, I learned so much about this organization and it made me think about the services they provide for families in our community. I couldn’t help but think about my own childhood.
I grew up in Bossier City with a single father who loved us and did the best he could, but he had a severe addiction to alcohol. We lived in roach-infested roadside motels for many years. When I was 10, I was left at home during the day to see after my 2-year-old baby brother while my daddy went to work. We often didn’t have enough to eat, and we bought our clothes at Goodwill. When I became a United Way campaign chair and saw first-hand how the organization helps families in need, I couldn’t help but wonder how our lives could have been different if we had known about the help that was available.
That’s my motivation for continuing to support and provide leadership to the United Way – the opportunity to provide families with addiction treatment, health care, nutritious meals and other services to help ensure their children thrive and become successful.
How It’s Going
In 2020 I was named a recipient of the Live United award – the highest honor from the United Way for advocacy, volunteerism and fundraising. I was so thrilled to be invited to the Celebration of Impact event and dinner, but COVID interrupted those plans. It was still exciting to win the award!
Besides the campaign work, I also lead our efforts in the local United Way Day of Caring. This year we had 21 team members participate – the most we’ve ever had.
The community impact is very important, but through my work with United Way I’ve been able to meet other Regions associates I would have never been able to meet otherwise. I have also formed great friendships with a couple of the United Way Campaign leaders. It’s been a really great experience all around.
How You Can Help
I really encourage all associates to get involved in some way. I know not everyone can get away to volunteer during work hours but visit the website for your local chapter to find weekend and after-hours opportunities. It’s such fulfilling work.
Austin Eng, Highland Associates, Birmingham, Alabama
How It Started
I have been involved with the United Way of Central Alabama since I joined Highland Associates two years ago. I have always been one to give back to the community. In high school, I ran my own charitable project and went on to lead institutional changes to mental healthcare at my university. I twice proposed projects to tackle global issues by participating the in the Clinton Global Initiative University.
My desire to serve is directly connected to my family history. I was born at 27 weeks and required a great deal of medical intervention and time in the hospital. If I lived, doctors predicted that I would not function normally and would need much assistance. Aside from the emotional strife my parents endured, the medical bills also created a significant financial hardship. Community foundations in our area leveraged their donations to erase my family’s medical debt.
I am a believer that to whom much is given, much is expected. To me, giving back to my community just makes sense. And in my opinion, the United Way presents the best opportunity to do that.
I see my service with UWCA as an extension of the higher mission of Highland Associates and Regions Bank – to make life better. I feel like I am serving the same communities that my clients do (Highland mainly serves not-for-profit hospitals and charitable organizations). Tangentially, investing in our communities is akin to investing in future opportunities, especially when our communities are our customers.
How It’s Going
Up until my involvement with UWCA, I was somewhat skeptical about contributing to non-profit organizations. Learning about and working with UWCA proved me wrong. The lengths to which UWCA conducts due diligence on the deployment of their funding is really impressive.
I’ve found UWCA to be efficient and effective. When I give, I know 93 cents of every dollar gifted is directly invested into our community. I know this is true from being on a Visiting Allocation Team, where we visited partner organizations and got a first-land look at their use of funds, financials and outcomes. As for effectiveness, UWCA’s results speak for themselves.
How You Can Help
In my opinion, the best way to get involved is to listen actively at your campaign meetings. For me, this was the jumping off point that led me to learn more about UWCA and to do my own research on the organization.
Eventually, I got involved and put some sweat equity into volunteering. This summer, I managed an intern, and we worked together to build community service into her development plan.
Giving a gift is personal – that is up to the individual. However, I encourage skeptics to do their own research. When you observe the work first-hand or participate in the process, giving or volunteering is a no-brainer.
Read about Scott Hartwig, Regions Commercial Banking leader and market executive, and his inspirational journey as 2023 annual community campaign co-chair for the United Way of Greater St. Louis.