Hear Me Roar
September 2019 Issue
Photography by Mike Force Photography
President and CEO
United Way of Coastal Georgia
Virginia, AKA the “Consummate Communicator,” is President and CEO of The United Way of Coastal Georgia. She and her husband, Ed, moved to the area four years ago, first residing in Darien and now on St. Simons Island. With cell phone in hand, Virginia can administrate from any vantage point, like here, from a downtown Brunswick historical square. For her, being out in our community, which is full of extraordinary people, is far more important than being at her desk.
Virginia, what’s your background and
how did you arrive in the non-profit fundraising world?
My family is from Starkville, Mississippi, which back then was a small town. My dad, who was a big influence on me, played saxophone in a 1930s/40’s big band. A musician myself on clarinet and piano, I had the opportunity to tour Europe at age 16, which was an incredible life changing experience. Here I was from a little town, touring European cities. Seeing similar community difficulties, I gained worldwide perspective as to other cultures and their daily lives, which still helps me with what I get to do today.
I had aspirations of being a professional musician but had a change of heart in my 20s, deciding to go into business. I got my MBA from Mississippi State University and worked a few years with some major corporations in marketing and public relations.
But I wanted a change. At the time it was difficult for women to be in traditional leadership management, but female led non-profit management was an emerging field. My love for fundraising and internal motivation led me to the desired experience to lead organizations using all I had learned in graduate school. I am now in my 30th year in CEO leadership of non-profit organizations. I’ve worked with the homeless, with children and a wide variety of different missions. I’ve also seen incredible ways people improve their communities. Bringing these shared experiences and ideas as alternatives (no need to start something from scratch) I think, is helpful. The entire United Way network is a valuable shared experience tool. So, I remain in this field continuing to offer opportunities in making a difference in people’s lives.
What is behind the United Way statement: “Cradle to Career”?
“Cradle to Career” is our mission: We believe an early start (before age 5) can really make a difference in a person’s life. You start by offering services while in the cradle, through high school graduation/GED certification, and onto a career. We want everyone to have a living wage, so we support children and their families all along this pipeline.
Within your four years as United Way CEO and President,
what memorable community comments and
thank-you notes do you cherish?
One was very emotional because we were really pushing our impact towards youth. In McIntosh County we funded an expanded program giving youth an amazing opportunity. The children then surprised me with hand-drawn notes with “Thank you, Mrs. Brown.” I loved them all!
Also, a comment I once heard still means so much me. One thing I brought to our area is the Community Round Tables of the United Way. These are cross sectors of non-profits, businesses, faith-based people and government folks, all working toward the same goal of making our community a better place. After doing round tables here for a couple of years, I heard several comments on how it’s “really working” and “making more of an impact than I thought it ever would.” These encouragements have really helped us to continue.
What is the concept of “Limb Walking” when working against all odds?
One of my mentors explained this concept to me years ago. “Limb Walking” is where you don’t just climb the tree but walk out on its limbs. The limb may not be strong enough to hold your weight for long, but it will allow you to fly. I’m a careful risk taker, but always like saying ‘spread your wings and take the chance!’ Many people in our community, including myself, see that we have no obstacles, just a few ‘bumps in the road.’ Our mantra is to look at it in a different way, gain a little patience and keep on going. I say ‘never give up’ and always be resilient for a good cause.
What do you do to restore and unwind?
I unplug when I can because you cannot give 100 percent to others unless you feed yourself, as well. I am a body, mind and spirit person. I love to walk—to simply walk in nature. I also unwind using the practice of mindfulness. And in spirit I am very much a faith-based person engaged in personal devotion.
What makes United Way of Coastal Georgia so approachable?
Our very welcoming experienced staff are always engaged in a wide variety of things. There are four of us, so if you have a question you can call, email, text, or drop by our Brunswick office at 3400 Parkwood Drive on the 2nd floor of the Immediate Care facility. We are super accessible, always open, and can also come to you! We serve as the volunteer center for all local non-profits. We’re truly friendly and really want to help. But, please note…our main job is to get you involved!
Along with our agency partnerships and 27 board of directors, we are 100 percent transparent and in constant communication. We know your donations are your money, so we spend it with your intent. Our United Way motto is: “We fight for the health, education and income stability of every person in every community.” I like the word “fight” in our motto and love it when someone comes to us saying, “I have an idea.”
What’s the next “ROAR” on the horizon for the United Way?
I see the United Way of Coastal Georgia growing into being “conveners.” By bringing together different kinds of groups you wouldn’t imagine we would bring together, we are opening our vision to see things in a more creative, broader way. We will continue to have so many issues and never run out of things to do. Feeding off the energy and passions of other people, nothing does this better than the United Way—there are so many options and opportunities, we cannot fail.
Facebook: United Way of Coastal Georgia