LE program offers growth opportunities

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As a teenager, I was privileged to have parents who believed I could make a unique contribution to the world. They shared books like "Think and Grow Rich" and stressed optimism and personal growth on a daily basis. Despite this enthusiasm and a daily use of PMA (positive mental attitude — PMA was an acronym I knew well by the age of 13), I still struggled to find my place in the work world after graduating from Florida State University. There are so many books and advice givers that I struggled to manage the ideas and information that could contribute to my success.

Even today, consuming available opportunities is a balancing act. When we don’t get it right, the wrong opportunity can be as draining as the right one is rewarding.

Considering this balance, it is helpful to know that PayScale, the largest salary profile database in the world, gives us guidance from the abundant database and resources they manage. They suggest, the basic principles followed by successful people can guide us in our choices:

  • Never stop learning and growing.
  • Maintain an open network.
  • Learn to be a leader, not a follower.

I am grateful that my parents armed me with these philosophies at an early age, but for those who didn’t have the same guidance. United Way’s Loaned Executive (LE) leadership development program can help. Through the program, executives develop an open network where they learn and grow their abilities to lead. Best-selling author and entrepreneur Michael Simmons said, “Most people spend their careers in closed networks; networks of people who already know each other.”

Simmons said a closed network leads to common ground where trust, understanding and easy comfort lull people to feel safe. Unfortunately, this safety lacks the new experiences, people, ideas and challenges that propel people to greater opportunity and success.

Through United Way’s LE program, local professionals are finding the inspiration, growth and challenge they need to experience success. Each month, community leaders like Rep. Clay Ingram, Gulf Power CEO Stan Connally, Port Director Amy Miller, Sacred Heart CEO Susan Davis, Catholic Charities CEO Christopher Root and others share their lessons, influence and experiences with loaned executives. Training on Managing Work Life Balance, Overcoming Negativity, Taking Responsibility and Supporting Change exposes executives to community leaders who share best practices and provides participants with opportunities to practice personal speaking and leadership skills. Nonprofit agencies like AMI Kids, Capstone and Gulf Coast Kid’s House host the loaned executives and expose program participants to community needs and the leaders working to resolve challenging conditions.

Over the past few years, loaned executives have left the LE program with eyes opened and opportunities expanded by a growing network that was influenced by what they learned.  A few of their stories follow.

Viki Estepa was a loaned executive with Publix Supermarkets. Estepa is a transplant from Romania, and said the following about her experience:
“Being an LE was an eye-opening experience. The generosity of people in our community is impressive. It made me realize how lucky I am and appreciate more what I have. Unfortunately, the number of people that need help in our community is pretty big, too. When touring some of the nonprofit agencies, I heard a lot of heartbreaking — and at the same time, inspiring — stories. It made me realize, I could need help one day; and I am now less judgmental and more appreciative. I realize no matter what the circumstances, you can always give something and help someone in need. We need United Way and United Way needs us!”

Estepa realized that we must work together to secure our community’s success. Like Estepa, Wes Hudges saw the mechanics needed for community and personal success.

”The United Way LE program was a great opportunity that came at the perfect time in my professional development," Hudges said. "It exposed me to job skills like public speaking, teamwork/leadership and networking with community leaders. Those were not within my job duties when I was in the program. Throughout the yearlong effort, it was easy to justify the small amount of time I gave up at work for the gains I made in my own development. The Leadership Training sessions were extremely helpful; and, the United Way team did a great job of pulling all of us out of our shell with fun and purposeful activities that tied back to leadership and professional development. Additionally, they did a great job at providing meaningful speakers who covered thoughtful leadership topics. The overall experience exceeded my expectations as I began to understand how impactful the overall program was for the community in general. Through my very own hard work, and the same of several others, we were able to provide hope for those who were struggling in Escambia County. My mindset changed as our group took action to improve the community for all of us.”

Hudges says his experience as an LE empowered him to be a more community minded employee with the expanded professional skills he needed to secure his role as a Community Relations Representative with Gulf Power.

United Way’s campaign manager, Kelly Jasen, was an LE before she joined the United Way team. Her experience changed her focus on service and her desire to volunteer.

“The LE program gave me a greater understanding of our community's needs and helped me build confidence in public speaking," Jasen said. "It broadened my professional network by helping me connect with other community-minded individuals and pushed me to care more about Escambia County. I remember my first site visit to Children’s Home Society as a member of the Community Investment Panel in 2015. Learning about a mother who lodged a fork in her son's cheek during a heated argument brought me to tears. At that moment, I realized that I had a responsibility to this community. I used my LE opportunity to join UWEC in changing that young man's life and the lives of countless other citizens. I am proud to have served as an LE and encourage others to be a part of our collaborative solution.”

For decades, United Way service and impact has been a byproduct of the committed involvement and dedication of our community’s leaders. Engaged citizens and volunteers have been behind United Way of Escambia County and our community’s success since 1924. The changes to our local LE program were made because we understand the limits on individual and organizational time and recognize that only by working together can we achieve true success.

To become an LE, download an application at www.unitedwayescambia.org/LE. Applications will be accepted through Feb. 10. For more information, contact Campaign Manager Kelly Jasen at kelly@unitedwayescambia.org, or call 444-7147.