WILKES-BARRE – Bill Jones will reach his one-year anniversary as president and chief executive officer at the United Way of Wyoming Valley in a just a few weeks, but already the community advocate has accomplished much in his role. Implementing new initiatives, addressing poverty issues and continuing to support dozens of local agencies have remained a constant since Jones officially began his job with the United Way on Jan. 2. This year's annual fundraising campaign is at the forefront as the countdown to a Dec. 6 closing celebration will mark how well the United Way has done this year. It is Luzerne County's single largest annual charitable fundraiser. We're not sure where we'll end up yet, it's too early to tell, Jones said. But this year … we've seen 15 percent more donors in the early returns and that has been very encouraging. Last year, the organization raised $4 million that benefits 46 programs within 25 agencies. That computes to over 40,000 people touched in some way by the United Way, Jones said, or one in seven people. That's significant, he said. A need (for the United Way) continues to exist and we'll keep campaigning (for donations) … so that the money remains consistent with last year. Jones said contributions have decreased for the past seven consecutive years, but programs funded by the United Way, which range from the Red Cross to children's services, have received the same amount of money as in the previous year. It's been a challenge with employers, the economy and government (entities) whose contributions have been down from last year, Jones said. That concerns us. … but we've spent a lot of time with companies that have supported us to strengthen and deepen those relationships. Here's what Jones and the United Way have been up to in the past year: Q: You said when you began working for the United Way that you wanted to decrease the need in the community. Has that happened?
A: It's a long process as we campaign in tough economic times. There will never be enough money for an ever growing need. We have to zero in on key initiatives that will help in the future. We're looking at issues like the high school dropout rate and … poverty. There is framework in place to give (the United Way) a different direction in the future. It will take two years to change our model, and we're beginning that process now. Q: What do you have planned for the immediate future?
A: We're taking on a lot at once. How to spend contributions, evolving the campaign process, a number of operational changes to make us run more efficient and … the board of directors has an internal goal to be more involved in the organization (now that the size of the board is smaller). Jones said the number of staff has been reduced by two to 16 ½ workers, while the size of the board decreased from 54 to 36. Q: Who in the past year has influenced your work and personal life?
A: I'm impressed by the dedication of the executive committee and the board members in general. Bobby Soper, Bill Sordoni and Carl Witkowski (to name a few). They are all very bright minds with a strong sense of direction. They are all people who want to see positive change. Q: What was the most memorable event during your first year?
A: During April, it was the Month of the Young Child. The event highlighted the role the United Way can play and how critical funding is for families. It's about starting change in the community with children. Science tells us 90 percent of a person's brain is developed by the age of 5 …. doing things with children (including good parenting skills and family engagement) in a child's early formative years has lasting impacts. Q: How can someone contribute to the United Way who cannot do so financially?
A: We currently have about 60 volunteers or so. We have various allocations panels and plenty of other opportunities, such as our Day of Caring. There are lots of ways to get involved, including through our partner agencies, to help. Money contributions can be made by calling 570-829-6711, visiting www.unitedwaywb.org; or by mailing contributions to: 8 West Market Street, Suite 450, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18701. Q: What is your favorite part of the job? Least favorite?
A: My favorite … is meeting people who really care about the community. I'm inspired by people who give their time and resources. My least favorite … campaigning (for contributions) can be discouraging. When (a person or company) chooses not to be involved. Everyone can do something. They have to search in their heart to find what they can do for a better community. Q: Who has influenced your work in the community?
A: Someday, when I grow up, I hope to be a servant leader. (The late) Dr. Wally Stettler, a retired president of Wyoming Seminary, was a genuine servant leader. He was as passionate about the poor as someone like Monsignor John Bendik. He has been my role model since college. I also want to make things happen in the community the way (the late) Rusty Flack made things happen in the community. Q: What is your long-term goal for the United Way and the community?
A: What I aspire to do the most, may take me to retirement to achieve. I hope to leave my working life in a nonprofit world when there's evidence of less need in the community. Smaller lines at the soup kitchen; the homeless having their housing needs met; domestic violence and addiction abuse not having such a firm grasp (on peoples lives). Those are my ideal dreams, but I could spend the next 15 years working to reduce those social ills. Those are big dreams and they aren't going to happen in a year. Q: Any last thoughts you'd like to share?
A: I am very passionate about the future. And knowing my personality, I'll continue to be persistent to bring the positive image we envision … and helping to make things better. I won't settle for mediocre … we'll work hard to address those needs in the future. I'm excited about it.