When Ashland Inc. moved its corporate headquarters from Russell to Covington in the late 1990s, some thought it would greatly curtail area fund-raising activities at the annual United Way campaign. But the United Way of Northeast Kentucky not only has survived the departure of its largest employer from this community, it has thrived.
At Thursday night’s annual recognition dinner for the United Way of Northeast Kentucky, it was announced that the annual fund-raising campaign of the United Way in Boyd, Greenup, Carter, Lawrence and Elliott counties had surpassed its goal for the 15th consecutive year by raising more than $750,000. When one considers the economy of this region since the Great Recession began in 2008, that’s an impressive string of success and yet another indication of what a giving community this is.
To be sure, the departure of Ashland Inc. and all of its employees who were so active in the life of this community was difficult to overcome. After all, Ashland Inc. contributed more than $200,000 a year to the United Way with half of it coming from the company and half coming from employees. Fortunately, Ashland Inc. continued to give smaller amounts to the local United Way after moving to Covington to lessen the impact on this community. At the same time, local employers like King’s Daughters Medical Center, Marathon Oil, AK Steel and Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital met the challenge and increased their giving to the United Way. So did dozens of smaller employers in the five counties. Carter, Lawrence and Elliott counties also joined Boyd and Greenup counties to form the United Way of Northeast Kentucky. The United Way now involves far more companies and their workers than it ever did when most of the giving came from four or five large employers.
Executive Director Steve Towler also deserves much of the praise for the success of the local United Way. Towler returned to his home town after 20 years as an award-winning school superintendent. He became the first full time director of the local United Way 14 years ago, and quickly developed a passion for the United Way. Not only did the United Way achieve its fundraising goal every year Towler was the executive director, it also branched out into new areas that have little to do with fundraising. It became a catalyst in the creation of The Neighborhood, the former Johnson’s Dairy building that now is home to five non-profit agencies. It developed a volunteer center and the BankOn program that is helping unbanked residents learn to take advantage of banks. With most federal checks, including Social Security, going to direct deposit payments beginning March1, the timing of the program could not be better.
Towler announced Thursday that he is stepping down as executive director. He certainly will be missed, but he is leaving an organization that is in excellent shape. He has paved the way for what should be an easy transition in leadership.