Giving Back Comes Naturally to Mervyn Sterne Award Winner

2019 Volunteer of the Year Sonja Keeton with Campaign Chair Jeff Stone.

Mervyn H. Sterne was truly a model volunteer for United Way of Central Alabama (UWCA). He served as Campaign Chairman in 1931 – in the throes of the Great Depression. But he didn’t let such harsh timing keep him from achieving amazing things for the community. In just two weeks, Sterne raised $750,000, a whopping 50% increase from the previous year’s campaign of $500,000. As a tribute to him, UWCA honors an exemplary volunteer from the annual campaign with the Mervyn H. Sterne Memorial Award. The 2019 winner was Sonja Keeton.

Keeton served as Professional Division Co-Chair and oversaw five successful campaign divisions. In addition, her tireless work included assisting with new business efforts and coordinating the internal campaign at Harbert Management Corporation, where she is Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. Her efforts helped UWCA surpass the campaign goal of $36.5 million, with a projected $36,800,000 raised to help the community through the work of more than 80 partner agencies. Keeton has long been a generous donor to UWCA, but more recently became actively involved on the organizational side.

“When I became a Board Member a couple of years ago, [UWCA President and CEO] Drew Langloh gave us a sort of ‘reeducation’ of United Way, and I was just stunned at all that it does,” said Keeton. “I knew about the agencies that we help, but then to hear about Meals on Wheels, Priority Veteran and Bold Goals was just amazing! It helped me see just how important United Way is as a trusted partner in the community.”

When it comes to giving back, Keeton says it’s just integral to who she is, both personally and professionally. “My parents were always giving,” she said. “Usually it was direct giving – someone had a problem, and we helped them. When I started at my first professional job, I was introduced to United Way, so I was able to play out that desire to give back in a different way.”

Her passion only grew once she started with Harbert three decades ago, as the company’s commitment to the community runs deep. For that, Keeton is thankful. “Serving and giving are the icing on the cake. If all I did was show up for work and do my job and not participate in the community in a meaningful way, I’d be miserable! It’s not a burden but a gift.”

Spoken like a very deserving winner of the Mervyn H. Sterne Memorial Award. Thank you, Sonja Keeton.