From making sure children have toys at Christmas and homeless families have a warm place to sleep, to helping kids excel from the first day they start school, the Debbie Hayworth has guided the United Way of York County’s efforts for three years.
At the end of this month, Hayworth, 58, will leave her post to spend more time with her parents in High Point, N.C. Her father has been in poor health for about a year, she said.
“I’ve kept a suitcase in my car for months because I never knew when the call was going to come,” she said. “It’s not fair to this organization or this community.”
Whoever fills her shoes as president will have the benefit of hard-working partner agencies, Hayworth said, and an established 2-1-1 referral system.
By dialing the United Way’s 2-1-1, people who need assistance – help with utility bills, putting food on their table – can talk to someone day or night.
In 2-1-1’s six years of operation, callers have received more than 34,000 referrals to find help in York County. It’s one of the things Hayworth says she’s proudest of during her time at the United Way.
The call-in program is one way the United Way makes decisions about distributing donations from the public. This year, the non-profit group helped 34 partner agencies, which offer a range of services to those in the local community.
The organization is in good shape, Hayworth said.
“That’s why the timing is right,” she said. “We’ve finished another (fundraising) campaign. We’re getting ready to start with the allocations to the agencies that have proved their worth and proved they’re doing good things with the money that we invest back into this community through United Way.
“There’s lots of opportunities and exciting things ahead for the next person that sits in that corner office.”
Hayworth sat down with The Herald on Wednesday to talk about her three years as president and what she’ll do next. Here are her responses to our questions:
What was your most rewarding experience while at the United Way of York County?
Building relationships in the community and being able to direct those in need to the right place to get help always brought satisfaction, Hayworth said.
She spent a total of seven years with the United Way. Before that, she taught fitness classes at the YMCA and served as a branch manager and community liaison.
“I started out at the YMCA as a community liaison, so I kind of had an inside track of who did what. I still find enjoyment in saying, ‘You need to talk to so-and-so.’
“Being the great connector – I would like that as one of my nicknames.”
Helping others meet their basics needs is important, she said, but routinely thanking people willing to write a check is just as crucial.
It was rewarding, Hayworth said, “to say thank you to those who are giving to the community whether it’s a donor or an agency or staff person that has really made a difference in one of our callers’ lives.”
What was the biggest challenge for the organization during your time as president?
“The needs are greater than the resources we have in this community.”
“It’s also difficult when the agencies are asking for the funds. The United Way has a tremendous reputation in this community for being the largest fundraiser and, I’ll say, the largest funder in York County. But we never can raise enough money. We always think, ‘If we only had more, we could do more good things.’ ”
More than 30 volunteers review applications from agencies seeking funding. Last week, those volunteers toured local facilities who serve the community to determine which groups receive donations.
It’s a tough task, Hayworth said.
“How do you prioritize homelessness and seniors waiting to get a hot meal delivered, but also more of the proactive outreach that we have supporting the families and the children to make sure that they are ready for kindergarten?
“We know we have a homelessness issue in York County...and that hurts us, (to know that) there are people who do not have a safe place to be at night, especially children. Because how can they learn at school when they are worried about what they’ll eat and where they will sleep?
“We think if we can take care of the basics needs, we can build on that foundation to make future leaders of tomorrow not have to worry about when the food pantry opens. And that’s our ultimate goal.”
How has the organization changed or grown during your time as president?
“We’ve realized you can’t keep going to the same people in the same town asking for more and more money,” Hayworth said.
“We’ve worked with several of our wonderful agencies, such as Keystone and Pilgrim’s Inn to get other grants – state and federal funds – to help us with rapid re-housing.
“So the homelessness issue is definitely something we’re addressing through our ‘Pathways to Housing’ 10-year plan.”
Getting more money from other sources besides the United Way of York County has helped partner agencies acquire apartment-style homes where people can live and receive help with issues like mental illness and substance abuse.
“It’s not just a house, but it’s supportive services,” she said.
The United Way’s financial backing gives leverage to partner agencies seeking state and federal grants.
“That’s when you make real impact...You can achieve great things without being overbearing on one individual or organization.”
How do you want to be remembered by the community?
“That I helped bring lots of community-minded people and partners together, so that York County will be stronger, more financially stable (and) it will be prepared for economic growth, because our children are fed, healthy and ready to learn and ready to be future leaders for tomorrow.”
More family time is in the future, Hayworth said, and “you can’t be in two places at one time.
“I’m not ready to say, ‘This is what I want to be doing, because I think God still has a plan for me.’
“I will be going to High Point and going to lots of doctor visit and eating lunch at (her dad’s) favorite restaurants and get to know all the waitresses that he talks to me about. And I need to be more of that inner-circle at this point.”
Hayworth might continue work with the United Way or other non-profit groups as time allows, she said.
Motivational speaking and encouraging good health and fitness to prevent serious illness later in life is something she’d like to return to, Hayworth said.
“I definitely have enjoyed my time here with United Way, but now I need to re-focus,” she said.
“I started as a nurse, and I need to come back as a nurse, but also one that’s made some changes in a community that I’m proud of. I want to continue those relationships when I can and how I can, to ensure that we all have an opportunity to do something good for someone else each and every day.”
Anna Douglas • 803-329-4068