Published June 28, 2019, by Elizabeth Miller
Many have asked what inspired me to work for one organization for so many years. The question is usually phrased more like, “OH, MY GOD. How could you stay in the same place for so long?”
There are three keys to the longevity of my employment at United Way:
First, I am a very loyal person. In summer 1984, when I was fresh out of college, I was looking for a place that focused on more than just the bottom line, and I was looking for an organization I could be at for a long time. I applied for the position of administrative assistant at United Way of Anchorage (UWA). At the time, there were five or six employees in the A Street office. However, the small size of the organization didn’t stop me; bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I asked, “Is there room for advancement?” I’m very thankful to Malcom Miner, may he rest in peace, and Lynn Ferry Caswell for hiring me and promoting me within a year to the fundraising side of the house. That was the start of my loyal career of almost 31 years at United Way.
The second key to my longevity at United Way is the people I’ve had the great pleasure of working with. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the best people in Anchorage. People who care for others, people who are generous, and people who are dedicated to making a difference in our community. Getting to know and working with each of you as donors, volunteers, and fellow staff members has been an inspiration to me. As my long-time co-worker, Anna Bell Stevens says, “You is Good People.”
The third key to my 30+ years with United Way is that while the organization has the same mission as when Malcolm Miner and Lynn Ferry Caswell hired me in that long-ago July, over the years UWA has grown and transformed. And it has been the challenge and the excitement of being part of these changes that has kept me here. With the leadership and vision of Michele Brown, United Way of Anchorage is leading in bringing people, organizations, and resources together to focus solutions for complex community problems. For example, over the last dozen or so years, the aligned work of United Way and others in the non-profit and government sectors, the school district and faith and business communities have increased the high school graduation rate from 59 percent in 2006 to over 80 percent in 2018. I have been motivated by the changes in the organization. I am very proud to have been a part of the work that together we as a united community have done to help kids be successful and in more recent years the work we are doing in similar ways to end homelessness -making it a rare, brief and one-time occurrence.
As you can imagine, the decision to leave was not an easy one. For the reasons I’ve just shared, I have loved my time with this organization. However, after 30+ years I’ve embraced the adage: change is good. There is more work to do and with the fresh energy and ideas of new people, United Way and our community will thrive. Cassandra Stalzer as the new Vice President of Transformational Philanthropy will do and is already doing great things.
I look forward to taking my renewed energy, vision and leadership to the Alaska Community Foundation (ACF) to grow philanthropy in Alaska. I’m very thankful to Nina Kemppel, President of ACF, for her great patience with me. When she approached me last September about the opportunity, I told her I’d be happy to talk with her about it, but because of my commitment to United Way and my personal plans to walk the Camino in Spain over the summer, I would not be available to come on board until July 1st. Not many employers would have moved forward with me as a potential candidate. She did, and I look forward to my first day at ACF on Monday!
To my friends, family, and colleagues, thank you for being a part of my story at United Way and for helping me celebrate this new chapter. You are the people who have inspired me.