Karen Dee is a busy lady … in and out of the bank. An insightful banker with a passion for giving back to the community, Karen Dee is president of the Florida and Mid-South regions for Fifth Third Bank. In 2011, she was named “Businesswoman of the Year” by the Orlando Business Journal. A longtime United Way supporter, she helped launch United Way of Tampa Bay’s Women’s Leadership initiative, has been a member of Heart of Florida United Way’s board since 2009, and has served as co-chair of the Women’s Leadership Council from 2010-2013.
Currently serving as chair of the Women’s Leadership Council, Karen is determined to improve education and literacy in Central Florida through the work of the Council. We asked Karen about the direction of the Council and her passion for giving back.
How long have you been involved with the United Way?
“I have been giving to United Way since my twenties and got involved with a workplace giving campaign at the beginning of my career. I’ve been a supporter ever since then, no matter where I lived or which institution I worked for.”
What’s the purpose of the Women’s Leadership Council?
“The Women’s Leadership Council does great things and you can see it in the local community. I think when you bring a group of women leaders together you bring inspiration. They are capable of really great things.
The work the Council is doing in education showcases this. We know that education is the single most important factor in making sure kids do as well or better than their parents. So, Women’s Leadership Council recently announced that it is aiming to bring the myON online reading program to 10 local Title-1 schools. This program will provide students with 24/7 access to nearly 4,000 e-books, as well as track metrics to show the students’ progress. My hope is that as the Women’s Leadership Council grows, we can reach even more students through our effort.”
What’s your vision for the Women’s Leadership Council?
“With the Council electing to pursue education as our primary focus for the next three years, my vision is to continue to invest in this area, primarily in literacy. The myOn program is great because it is something tangible and measurable, and it ties to United Way’s mission really well. We can use the results to generate awareness and even incorporate our focus on reading and education into volunteer events.
The bottom line is that education is critically important to making a better life for all people. It gives women leaders, and a community in general, a cause to rally around because it makes such a huge difference.”
Is there a specific story that motivated you to get involved with United Way?
“I got involved in United Way through workplace giving, but there’s a story that reinforces why I continue to be involved. One year as a part of Fifth Third Bank’s workplace giving campaign, one of our Financial Center leaders shared her inspiring story of her involvement with United Way.
As an organization, we were participating in United Way’s Day of Caring volunteer event, and she was volunteering at the BETA Center, which is one of the organizations that the Council supports. While she was painting a room at the BETA Center, she realized that she was painting the SAME room that she stayed in as a single teenage mother. Because of the help that she received from the BETA Center and United Way, she was able to go to college and now, successfully manage one of our financial centers. Without the help of United Way she would have never become what she is today. It gives me Goosebumps every time I tell that story. The year she shared her story with employees we had record giving. Stories like this continue to validate the work that United Way and the Women’s Leadership Council does.”
What is your primary motivation for giving, advocating, volunteering on behalf of United Way?
“Stories like that continue to motivate me to give, advocate and volunteer. But also because United Way’s work helps to improve lives and they continue to have a focused effort on issues in our community”
What does it mean to you to “Live United”
“When we come together as leaders and people in the community we can make a difference. That’s what it means to me.”
You’re a new grandmother. In what ways do you think the work United Way is doing now will impact your grandchild’s life later?
“I think it goes back to the fact that education is the single most important factor in making sure kids do as well or better than their parents. Who doesn’t want their child or grandchild to achieve their fullest potential? I want him to be the best that he can be. I also have two daughters and I want them to have all the opportunities that they can have and United Way knows that starts with a good education.”