How Working With United Way Can Be a Life-Changing Experience
Loaned Executive Spotlight: Gena Hyatt
The United Way of Central Alabama helps people every day. One of the ways we help is through the Loaned Executive (LE) program. This program is a life-changing experience, enabling you to learn all about United Way, the services we offer and the agencies we support.
Experience servant leadership in your community by raising awareness, funds and support for those who need it most – living right here in the 5 county area (Blount, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Walker).
Below is an interview with one of our recent LEs, Gena Hyatt. Gena is an Executive Administrative Assistant for Royal Cup Coffee.
Q: How long have you been employed with Royal Cup?
A: Almost 8 years working for the CFO. I fill various roles within the Accounting Department.
Q: What was your first thought when you were asked to come to United Way as a loaned executive?
A: I had a lot of thoughts. When the President brought me in and asked me to take on a new project, I said “Sure!” When he told me what the project was I thought ….”Why are you trying to get rid of me? Do you not need me?”
Q: What challenges did you have to overcome when you realized this was going to happen?
A: It was a huge change and realizing that I would be doing a lot of public speaking terrified me. Then again, just letting go of my job responsibilities and having to train others to do my job was a challenge.
I have since learned you cannot do both jobs so I had to learn to let go. I was anxious and nervous. I was very comfortable with my job at Royal Cup but not comfortable with the prospect of serving as a Loaned Executive for United Way.
Q: How did you feel going through the United Way orientation and training?
A: I thought it was amazing. I was still anxious and worried, not necessarily for my job anymore, but was still thinking about why they would choose me when I was in a stable position at the company.
It was during training when Drew Langloh (CEO of United Way of Central Alabama) and Nancy Goedecke (2015 Campaign Chair and CEO of Mayer Electric Supply Co.) told me that they went to my boss and said “Send us your best and we will send them back even better.”
From that moment on I never had a doubt that I was where I was supposed to be. Not that I felt like I was the best, but that the company felt they were sending a key person to do something fantastic for the community.
Q: What has the experience been like since working at United Way?
A: Incredible! While the job is very challenging, it is such an awesome experience being able to share what United Way does for someone in need. I’ve enjoyed the camaraderie both with my team and staff. Everyone has such a positive attitude. I receive texts often asking “How can we help or what can we do for you?” The new friendships have been awesome, but being able to see how United Way helps support the agencies and seeing what they do, has been a wonderful experience.
When I went to the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama to learn more about the backpack project, I learned so much about how they assist in feeding the hungry and how the Weekenders Backpack Project was organized. The Food Bank asks volunteers to help fill plastic bags with 12-15 items for each bag. These bags are placed into the backpacks of children, identified by teachers, who are food insufficient. Typical behaviors that send up red flags are stomachs growling, acting out or falling asleep in class. The goal is to feed these children for the weekend so they come back on Monday morning ready to learn.
Maybe they are considered for the backpack program because they have a parent who works third shift or a parent who can’t afford enough food. The reason I clung to this effort is because I have 5 and 11 year-old sons who can go to our pantry at home anytime and have food available. Just to think that a child may be going to school with one of my children and might not have a snack or dinner, while they are at their home, is unfathomable. When I found out that it costs just $4.50 to feed a child, it makes me feel really good about the money I’ve given over the years. We are lucky and blessed to live in a community that wants to take care of children. So this program is very near and dear to my heart.
Q: What new skills and experiences have you gained.
A: Organization, time management and public speaking are things I have learned and had to excel . Having a tight schedule, with not much time in-between, requires you to be on your toes. Planning ahead is important and these things have helped me be successful. Also, I have never spoken to large groups and was petrified. Recently, I spoke to an EBSCO account in Vincent, AL to about 200 people.
Q: What would you say to anyone thinking about being LE?
A: To not be apprehensive. It will be one of the most incredible journeys you have been on. Probably the most challenging on some days, but the rewards outweigh any of the negatives. I cannot say enough good things about it.
Q: What would you say to a prospective employer thinking about loaning an employee to the United Way program?
A: It can be done. There are three ladies splitting my job responsibilities right now and it seems to be working out. Of course I’m sure they will be glad when I come back on Monday. But I would encourage any employer to give someone an opportunity for a quality development and leadership program. And it makes me so proud of my company. I think so highly of them now … how they choose to give back, not just through monetary giving but loaning employees to the process. I thank them for believing in me and having the confidence that I will carry the good name of Royal Cup into the community. Send the best and we will send them back better could not be better worded for both the employer and the employee.
Q: What would you say to someone who knows nothing about United Way in a short amount of time?
A: That United Way supports more than 80 agencies and most of us have experienced Children’s Hospital, American Cancer Society, Pathways or Oasis. So many organizations that you can touch. I want to give money to all of these but I can’t. So giving to United Way allows me to do this and touch so many lives. So many ways to give back and when you do, you get rewarded ten-fold.
Q: Describe your experience. What is it like working with United Way?
A: I always say “Incredible organization.” Though that does not encompass it all. But is has been incredible. Whether it’s the people, the facilities, what United Way does, the community impact, the agencies, how they spend and watch their money. It has been an incredible journey.