United Way of the Lowcountry Approaches Local Issues With a Better Perspective
Author: Don McCloud
When Marty Gleason retired to Hilton Head Island 15 years ago, he began playing tennis 10 times a week. It was fun, but he started to wonder, “Is this all there is?” Gleason was used to long hours in his previous life as co-owner of Hemophilia Resources of America Company in New Jersey. So, he decided he needed more outlets for his creative energy, and perhaps contributing to the community he had come to love would be a direction to take.
Volunteer work has come easy for both Gleason and his wife of 48 years, Lenore. In addition to their three daughters and nine grandchildren, the Gleasons have put their heart, energy and finances into local area schools, the arts, community functions and Special Olympics. Gleason’s enthusiasm is infectious, and his latest passion is serving as this year’s fundraising chairman for the Hilton Head Island area of United Way of the Lowcountry (UWLC).
A four-year board member, Gleason has been most impressed with how UWLC insists on funding only programs that show positive, measurable outcomes. This year’s campaign goal is $2.5 million, which encompasses more than 30 nonprofit agencies. Each must prove that United Way funding is achieving results.
Jody Levitt, director of The Children’s Center on Hilton Head Island, can attest to such a results-oriented focus. Each year, the center, which strives to prepare 170 children from working families for kindergarten, must demonstrate how many children the center’s United Way-funded programs help and whether they reached their goals.
“The United Way is really good at helping us be better at what we do,” Levitt said. “And we can demonstrate with test-scoring that when our kids leave here, they are entering kindergarten ready and prepared to do work at a kindergarten level.”
Along with focusing on results, UWLC funding and programs touch on four main aspects of the community: basic needs, education, health and income/ family security, Gleason said.
In the basic-needs area, the organization supports such stalwart southern Beaufort County agencies as Deep Well and Bluffton Self Help, which each assist local individuals and families who fall on hard times. Such hard times were especially felt after Hurricane Matthew roared through in October, damaging large swaths of Hilton Head Island and mainland areas.
“After Matthew, we were getting 100 calls a day,” Gleason said of United Way’s Helpline, which averaged five to six calls a day before the storm. “People had trees on their roof. They were out of work and out of food. They were just devastated.”
In response, UWLC infused $100,000 from its local reserves to directly aid agencies like Deep Well and Bluffton Self Help to shore up some of those short-term needs. But those needs continue.
“As we all know, southern Beaufort County was hit hard by the storm, and many of our neighbors are still feeling the impact,” said Jaime Dailey-Vergara, UWLC director of marketing and communications. “We anticipate it’s going to take a year for many to recover from Hurricane Matthew.”
Gleason has also been impressed with United Way’s tutoring programs, designed to help struggling students read on grade level by fourth grade.
“Read Indeed,” which UWLC runs in-house, has more than 300 volunteer tutors working in nine local schools. During a recent school year, the program helped 675 students. Reports show that of those students, 99 percent in Beaufort County increased their standardized-test scores.
Labor of love
Success with these and other programs United Way funds makes raising money a labor of love for Gleason. “I truly believe in what they do and accomplish,” he said, “so it’s easy for me to do fundraising.”
Organization officials also appreciate Gleason’s energy and his desire to make a difference. Tina Gentry, president and CEO of the United Way of the Lowcountry was effusive about the importance of people like him.
For Gleason, who cut back on his tennis from twice a day to twice a week to become more involved in the community, that passion comes from a drive to share his blessings.
“I’m constantly mindful of a saying from my mother in law: ‘If you’ve got a nickel, you’ve got to give at least a penny to somebody else.’” Gleason said. “That was just her way of saying you should always give, and I cannot agree more.
“We’ve been fortunate,” he added, “and therefore, we think we should be sharing.”
For more information, visit uwlowcountry.org