Dear United Way Friends,
This is the final “From the Desk of” you will receive from me. On Monday, Antonia Monk Richburg will begin her tenure with United Way, and I look forward to watching where she will lead the organization in the years to come. However, today I want to say farewell and express my thanks to you.
I began my tenure with United Way of Forsyth County eleven years, two months, and seven days ago. There are times it feels like yesterday and others when it feels as if it was a hundred years ago. When I was offered the position of CEO, I had other options. I received another job offer the day before and expected a third within 24 hours. None were in places I had lived before. It was difficult to decide which organization and community to commit to, but you know what my decision was.
In the years since, I’ve never, not for one minute, questioned or regretted that decision. Forsyth County is a special place filled with special people. There are many challenges, even more than when I arrived, due to the effects of the pandemic. Still, I’ve never been part of or even seen a community that wants to improve and meet issues head-on more than this. I have felt blessed every day to be part of tackling the challenges.
You were also more welcoming to me than I could ever have hoped. A stranger from the north might have been viewed with suspicion but I was greeted with genuine warmth and welcome at every turn. Y’all made it so easy to not just feel like part of the community but really become part of it. I will be forever grateful for that.
It has been eleven years of profound change. The organization, the philanthropic environment, and even the community I walked into would be unrecognizable today in many ways. I would have made that statement even before COVID, but the changes have only intensified in the years since March 2020.
One of Winston-Salem’s most acclaimed residents, Maya Angelou, said, “When you know better, you do better,” and we’ve lived by that creed. We learned that Forsyth County ranks almost last in the U.S. for economic mobility, meaning that children born in poverty here have very little chance of climbing out of it as adults. That fact was a driving reason for the shift in United Way priorities and investments to focus on creating equitable communities, improving economic mobility, and increasing childhood and student success.
There are many accomplishments and much to be proud of since that first day. The development of Place Matters and the pivot to employing a bottoms-up approach to community problem-solving rather than top-down was significant. It’s resulted in a sustainable and equitable partnership model where residents are leading change to create stronger neighborhoods.
We’ve diversified our revenue sources, so we are not solely dependent on workplace campaigns and have been able to attract resources from outside the community to further our work. We created a new mission and vision to ensure United Way can address the needs of today rather than the needs of the past.
Prior to COVID, United Way investments helped increase our high school graduation rate from 70.7 percent to 86.5 percent in ten years and reduce the chronically homeless population by 92 percent. In addition, we’ve funded pilot programs that have seen great success in diabetes prevention and providing access to mental health for students and their families, among others. During COVID, we directed resources to set up remote learning sites, with a special focus on improving third grade reading that continues today.
COVID pushed United Way into a new type of leadership in our community, addressing an unknown and immediate crisis, while using our data systems to provide information about emerging needs in real time that wasn’t available anywhere else.
Through it all, one thing didn’t change. Your generosity and caring made every accomplishment, and much more, possible. You have always been an integral part of the team. I cannot possibly thank you enough for choosing to invest in our community through United Way.
Next year we’ll celebrate our Centennial, while planning for the next 100 years of community leadership. And in the coming months, you’ll learn about many other exciting projects being developed.
Thank you for welcoming me to your very special community. In allowing me to become part of it, it has become part of me, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.
Until we meet again,
Cindy Gordineer President and CEO of United Way of Forsyth County