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PART 1: Volunteer leaders vital to United Way success

By Sonny Long
Aug. 3, 2012 at 3:03 a.m.

Geri Schroeder

DID YOU KNOW?

Victoria County United Way not only serves Victoria, DeWitt and Lavaca counties, but some of the agencies it funds provide services in Calhoun, Gonzales, Goliad, Jackson, Refugio, Matagorda, Wharton, Colorado, Brazoria and Aransas counties.

MORE TO COME

The Victoria County United Way is celebrating its 65th year of service to the community. This year, the organization will distribute more than $620,000 to 17 area agencies that assist people in need in Victoria, DeWitt and Lavaca counties. In a four-part series, the Advocate takes a look at the United Way during the years, how it has changed and how it has stayed on course with strong partnerships with volunteers, government and businesses.

• Part 1: Leadership

• Part 2: Name changes

• Part 3: Photographic memories

• Part 4: Consistent mission

At the forefront of every United Way campaign since the national organization began 125 years ago in Denver has been active volunteer leadership.

The same has been true in the 65-year history of the Victoria County United Way.

Jimmy Traber, campaign chairman in 1970 and board president in 1971, Gaylan Duncan, campaign chairman in 1977 and board president in 1978, sat down with current campaign chairwoman Geri Schroeder and Russell Janecka, 2011 campaign chair and 2012 board president to discuss how United Way leadership has changed and how it has stayed the same over the years.

Executive director Clifford Grimes was also present.

Advocate: What attracted you to becoming part of the United Way leadership team?

Traber: I was working with Victoria Bank and Trust Co. in the marketing department, public relations. This was the kind of work I was doing anyway, trying to promote Victoria and the business. This was a natural thing for someone in my position.

Duncan: I was excited to be able to be a part of finding out why United Way had been rocking along.

Janecka: I had an arm's length recognition at what they were accomplishing. Working on the allocations committee and getting an opportunity to visit the agencies and look into the eyes of the children that are affected by the dollars from United Way, I wanted to do what I could to help facilitate and contribute to the cause.

Schroeder: It educates me about other agencies to be able to help people and guide them to where they might get help.

Advocate: What attributes do you think make an effective leader for a United Way fundraising campaign or board of directors?

Schroeder: Someone who has passion for the community, wants to be involved and enjoys working with people. Every time I volunteer I meet someone I haven't met before.

Janecka: Extroverted. Fun-loving. Community-oriented. You've got to be prepared to roll up your sleeves, and yet there are so many shoulders against whom you are pressing as you go forward. You are always working with a group, so that esprit de corps is so rewarding in itself.

Duncan: I'm excited about Victoria, always have been. Victoria has a lot to offer. When you have the privilege of working with people like are seated around this table, it makes it pleasure rather than a burden.

Traber: Serving the community is a big part. I like the problem solving part of it. If you are going to do anything successfully, everyone has to be involved.

Advocate: Since the early '60s with a few exceptions, the previous year's campaign chair stepped in as board president the next year. How is this consistency in leadership beneficial to the fundraising efforts of the United Way?

Traber: It is absolutely important to have your feet on the ground. The person who was the employee chairman the year before became the campaign chair then board president, so you really had a three-year run at it. That was very important.

Duncan: I really think it gave you the opportunity to learn as you went along. That was so important.

Janecka: I have to say it gave me confidence stepping into the president's chair. There is so much gratitude in my heart for having an executive director like we do, that consistency even supercedes what we gain by going through that growth pattern of positions. Having someone who has a big picture understanding of our purpose and keeps us on track. You step into the leadership role and this mechanism is up and running. I am so grateful we've learned from the struggles of the past and repaired them. I handed the baton to Geri with the promise that there is a smooth-running machine that she just needs to turn the key and drive. It's got the map and the GPS.

Schroeder: People who have been placed in different roles, in different divisions, they all say yes. It's a reflection of how well respected the United Way is in Victoria. It is important to get people involved and be able to move up the ladder and have that consistency.

Advocate: What was the most difficult part of convincing an individual or a company to take part in the United Way?

Traber: The whole program had been dependent on advance gifts. The big donors lost faith in the organization and we had to restructure and get the employee's division going. Now it's individual donors who drive the campaign. That's what makes it work.

Duncan: We found some of the same problems that Mr. Traber did. Once the person turned the right key and got people moving, it got easier.

Janecka: We're having difficulty cracking the oil and gas industry. The passing of the buck and not being able to talk to a meaningful leader in the local office and impressing upon them that they play a part in the community. It's an opportunity for them to serve, to help themselves and help the community. That's a struggle we're still working with.

Advocate: What is the most gratifying aspect of being involved with United Way?

Schroeder: Learning about the different agencies and getting to meet new people.

Janecka: Expanding my circle of friends. Victoria is a wonderful place and the people make the place.

Duncan: A combination of everything everyone has said already. It's exciting for me to be able to associate with people you ordinarily would not. Being able to work with people.

Traber: Being able to find people who had not been involved before who really wanted to. That was the most rewarding thing to see those people who had never been involved become leaders.

Advocate: Mr. Grimes, how important is the volunteer leadership group in an organization like the United Way?

Grimes: Critical. Without volunteers like the folks here, there would be no United Way. It really is dependent on the quality and involvement of volunteers, to not only lead but also to guide, to set policy and direction. Everything done from the beginning to today has shaped our success, not only for right now but 10, 20 or 30 years down the road. I've been doing this 35 years and I've not yet met a volunteer who hasn't added something to our well being.

Advocate: Anything else you want our readers to know about the United Way?

Schroeder: The number of people the agencies the United Way contributes to actually touches. More than 50,000 people are affected by our donations. It does make a difference not only in Victoria County, but in the other counties that our agencies serve. We need to continue to educate everyone on what our agencies do.

Janecka: The Day of Caring to kick off the campaign is a positive new development. What a great way to start the annual fund drive by having everyone come together and roll up their sleeves, sweat their hearts out and get a lot of work done. It really gets the ball rolling and gets the community heart unified.

Duncan: We have come a long way and have exciting people in these positions. It's rewarding to see. This is a plus organization.

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