Volunteerism and community service are integral parts of Roseann Harrington’s character. From the days when her mother served as Director of Development for both the Florida Symphony Orchestra and the Leukemia Society, Roseann as a teen was instilled with a lifelong commitment to give back and volunteered at her mother’s side.
How long have you been involved with Heart of Florida United Way?
When I became the OUC Community Relations Manager in 1992, I took on the responsibility for the United Way campaign, and I’ve been involved in every campaign ever since. We made the transition from requiring a donation to encouraging a voluntary gift, but we needed a consistent way to promote United Way to our employees. Our CEO, Troy Todd was very philanthropic and community-oriented. He was a huge supporter of volunteerism. We introduced OUC Community Crews, to encourage employees to work with local charities and get involvement in fundraising activities such as walk-a-thons. United Way workplace giving really took off a couple years later when we produced our first video featuring employee testimonials. Their personal stories made a huge difference.
OUC has evolved from just philanthropy to also providing direct service. How did that come about?
We launched Project Care in 1994 with $38,000 in seed money to help families that had experienced a personal or family crisis placing them in danger of losing their utility service. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when we saw our tourism and convention business heavily impacted, we decided to beef up Project Care with an additional gift of $100,000 because we could see the need was so great. When a customer contributes to Project Care through his or her utility bill, OUC matches that gift 2 to 1. The same is true for employee donations – OUC provides a 2 to 1 match. Since its inception OUC has raised and contributed more than $3.2 million to Project Care and assisted more than 18,000 customers.
How did OUC partner with United Way to make Project Care even stronger?
We kept Project Care going through the hurricanes of 2004, Katrina in 2005 and the economic collapse of 2008. But even before the Great Recession hit, we were looking for ways to strengthen Project Care for the future. We determined that it was taking too long to get people the assistance they needed, so we funded and hired a case manager to streamline the process. We partnered with United Way to provide office space in its facility so the case manager can take a holistic approach to a person’s need, looking at housing, food and other necessities, not just utilities. By making these improvements, we’ve been able to help so many more people. Someone can now access up to $500 in utility assistance a year. Besides matching contributions 2 to 1, OUC provides additional grants to ensure the Project Care fund never runs dry.
You are known as someone who is really passionate about volunteerism and philanthropy, and your passion is contagious. Has United Way influenced that?
I’ve been volunteering my whole life. My mother set an outstanding example with her charity work and I volunteered all through high school. Troy Todd, who as CEO, appointed me to head up Community Relations at OUC, was a community champion and we really wanted the company to be more than just a provider of essential services. We support 400 community organizations and participate in 150 charity events a year, but the support for United Way is very strong at every level of the company. Our employees who work with clients every day are our biggest givers because they see the need first-hand. Many have reached out to United Way on behalf of a customer whose family is in dire need. The bond is that strong.
What do you think people still don’t know about United Way?
They don’t know enough about 2-1-1. It’s such an important service. 2-1-1 will get you to the right person or the right organization to get you the help you need. Some people see United Way as merely a clearinghouse for community donations, which isn’t accurate. If people could only see the United Way review panels and how thorough they are during site visits, they’d understand why it’s a great idea to give to the United Way general fund. I give to the general fund because I really trust the work the review panels perform and their tireless efforts to make sure every funded agency has a beneficial impact on our community.