New leadership: United Way executive director a ‘people person’

By Tammy Keith Originally Published September 13, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated September 12, 2012 at 1:40 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Kathy Hull, left, executive director of the United Way of Central Arkansas, and Maret Cahill, resource development director, both of whom are new to their positions, said they are excited about this year’s capital campaign, which will kick off Sept. 25. The United Way of Central Arkansas funds 18 agencies in Faulkner and Perry counties. The women said the money raised is devoted to programs in the two counties.

— Kathy Hull said that when she saw an advertisement for the United Way of Central Arkansas executive director’s position, she excitedly called her mother and said, “It’s almost written for me.”

Knowledge of nonprofits — check. Strong in donor data bases — check.

Hull, 35, of Conway was working at Heifer International in Little Rock at the time, where she was getting a world of experience.

Accounting skill set — check.

She received her accounting degree in 2008 from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.

Empathy for the struggles that many United Way recipients go through wasn’t in the ad, but she has that, too.

Hull is a divorced mother of two, including a daughter who is deaf.

“My story isn’t pretty,” she said, sitting in her office in Conway, where she started working in July.

Hull married young. She was 16 when she had her son, Larry, who is now 17, and then she had her daughter, Alex, who is 13.

Born in Virginia, Hull said her family moved around as her father was promoted in his food-services career. She graduated from high school in Texas and got a job managing radio stations in the Pine Bluff area.

“It really opened the door as far as marketing and management,” Hull said.

She said that when the radio stations received concert tickets or donations such as basketballs for an event, she took them to a nearby boys’ home.

Hull decided to get her degree and drove back and forth two or three days a week from Pine Bluff to the University of Central Arkansas. To make ends meet, she cleaned houses.

“It was really tough getting in, so I really saved,” she said about being able to afford attending UCA.

“I started as a teaching major because as a single mother of two, it made sense. When I started doing field work, I wasn’t completely happy. I took a business class and fell in love with accounting.”

As soon as she graduated, she took an accounting job at Heifer International — “like that,” she said, snapping her fingers.

“I’m a people person,” she said, and accounting was a solitary job. She became senior supervisor of donations processing and also coordinated events, “which opened up a whole other skill set for me,” she said.

Hull said her former boss, Stephanie Chesher, was “the best role model ever.”

“She’s really good at seeing people’s talents. She really empowers her team,” Hull said.

Hull continued to live in Conway during the four years she worked at Heifer International.

“It’s such a great community that I stayed, and when [the United Way director] opportunity came up, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh; it was meant to be because I can make a difference,’” she said. “That’s what it boils down to, making a positive difference in my community.”

Former United Way Executive Director Amy Blaylock moved to Louisiana when her husband accepted another position.

“She was great; she has been very helpful,” Hull said.

The goal of Heifer is “to end poverty through sustainability. It’s a wonderful organization. That’s what I like about United Way,” Hull said. “It’s nonprofit, and it’s wonderful to stand for something you know is doing good, but this is right here in my community.”

Hull said the United Way of Central Arkansas includes 18 agencies in Faulkner and Perry counties.

One of the myths is that the money goes elsewhere, but it all stays in those two counties, she said.

Maret Cahill of Conway also applied for the job as executive director. Cahill said she was told that someone else (Hull) was being considered for the executive director’s spot, but they liked her skill set for resource-development director.

At first, Cahill said thanks, but no, thanks.

She changed her mind, though, and said she and Hull are in the right positions.

“I do think she is an excellent manager,” Cahill said of Hull.

“We work really well together. We both get each other’s sense of humor. … I think we complement each other very well,” Cahill said.

As a divorced mother of three, Cahill said she and Hull also share “survival skills.”

Hull said she got a good idea of what kind of community Conway was when she enrolled her deaf daughter at Jim Stone Elementary School.

Hull said she told Principal Mark Lewis that her daughter is moderately to severely deaf and has a cochlear implant.

“He said, ‘We will make sure she has everything she needs,’” Hull said. “They just made her experience every year very successful.”

Hull said her daughter also participated in a tutoring program with the Boys and Girls Club of Faulkner County, a United Way agency.

Other agencies that receive funding from the United Way of Central Arkansas include Conway’s homeless shelter, Bethlehem House, and the Center for Exceptional Children in Perry County.

“You’re actually investing in your community in tried-and-true programs,” Hull said.

Cahill said the three building blocks of the United Way of Central Arkansas are income, health and education.

“We believe everyone has a right to a good life,” she said. “If every single person took $1 or $2 out of their paycheck every week, we can make it stretch.”

Cahill said one of her goals is to increase corporate payroll deductions, adding that she and Hull are going to become Pillars, which means giving at least $1,000.

“We’re both single moms, and we’re going to become a pillar because we feel like we need to put our money where our mouth is,” Cahill said.

“Corporations here in this town — we’ve been so pleased because it’s the people who live here. They seem to be ready to go.”

The capital campaign kickoff will be from 5:30-8 p.m. Sept. 25 on the rooftop of Michelangelo’s Italian Ristorante in downtown Conway.

The event is free, and the target audience is small businesses, corporations, “anyone interested in a payroll deduction for their employees for United Way, or individuals looking to become Pillars,” Hull said.

The United Way of Central Arkansas has also partnered with the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce for the second annual Big Event in Conway, planned for Oct. 5 and 6. It’s a citywide volunteer effort, and more information is available at volunteerconway.org.

Hull said her main goal as United Way executive director is “to make sure we are out in the community, bring transparency to our board and streamline the systems we have in place. When you have a board of 21 to 24 people, they need to know exactly what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, because if they don’t know, they can’t help you.

“One of my old bosses said the way you have to look at it is, if you ever get hit by a bus, could somebody jump into your role pretty seamlessly? I want to cross-train Maret and myself on every function.

“Also, I just want to get out in the community and bring that new energy, bring that new excitement. I want people to know there’s a United Way in this community and that there are volunteer opportunities.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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