CONWAY Executive Director Maret Cahill Wicks said the United Way of Central Arkansas is more than just one person, and she knows she’s leaving the nonprofit agency in capable hands.
“It’s 60 years of really rich history of so many people giving their time and talents to this place,” she said.
Cahill Wicks said she is honored to have been involved for the past 7 1/2 years.
“I love this place and love what we’ve accomplished,” she said.
Cahill Wicks will participate in one more United Way-sponsored Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day in Conway; then she’ll take off on another path. She has been hired as market manager for Arvest Bank.
Aimee Prince, resource development director, is now the United Way of Central Arkansas’ interim executive director. The United Way of Central Arkansas includes four counties — Faulkner, Conway, Perry and Van Buren counties.
Cahill Wicks also started as the United Way of Central Arkansas’ resource development director, in 2012, and was promoted to executive director nine months later.
She was asked about the legacy she will leave after 7 1/2 years.
“On the legacy part, I think it’s the Charity Tracker, which is huge and is such a resource for the community and really does perform miracles every day that we use it,” she said.
The computer software system helps weed out people who have legitimate needs from those who are trying to milk the system. Churches and organizations can join, which creates a database of individuals served.
“We put it in place in 2014 after the tornado. As we all know, when a tragedy like that happens, good people come out of the woodwork, but so do people who want to take advantage. We started in Mayflower, here in Conway and also in Vilonia, and started offering it to churches and agencies.
“Say I’m a bad person, and I say, ‘I need $150 to pay my light bill.’ You pay me $50, and you put me in the system, and I go to the next church and say, ‘I need $150.’” She said a church employee can look in the computer system and say, “I see First United Methodist Church has paid you $50, so you only need $100.’”
Wicks said 130 organizations that provide assistance are included in the database.
Opening the Financial Empowerment Center to the area and helping people with budgeting classes is a feather in the agency’s cap, she said. It started in February, and 150 families have gone through classes.
“We do classes on budgeting and classes on, say, cooking on a dime,” she said.
“It’s continued to morph, and I think it will continue. Under different leadership, it will change a little bit. … The next person will think of something I didn’t,” she said.
“Bringing VITA, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, to the community — that was so important and continues to be really important,” she said, adding that this is the third year of the program. It will begin Feb. 1.
“It just depends on so many volunteers,” she said.
Cahill Wicks is on the steering committee of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s initiative Bank On Arkansas Plus.
“It’s bringing banking to the underbanked and nonbanked, which fits in with our Financial Empowerment Center. It costs $500 to $1,000 a year to be unbanked,” she said, because of the fees to cash checks and buy money orders.
“It tends to be low-income families who tend not to have checking accounts. I’m proud of working on that and proud of my partnership with other United Ways around the state, with 18 agencies and 30 programs,” she said.
The United Way of Central Arkansas “is such a great organization and does so much for the community. Quantifying what it does, you can’t even begin to in the fact you can multiply each grant by four or more times. When you give to United Way, you know it’s going to multiply because agencies are encouraged to find matching grants.
“Those are the rock stars,” she said of the agencies.
Prince was hired almost a year ago as resource-development director, and it’s a familiar role. She also was resource-development director from 2005-2009.
“We have great momentum right now,” Prince said. “We just took on Conway County, and we have VITA … and the Financial Empowerment Center is off and running. I want to make sure none of that gets behind and stays on the trajectory. We are really doing great things in this community.”
Cahill Wicks said she has confidence in Prince to handle the agency.
“I’m so proud of her; I know she’s going to do a great job,” Wicks said.
Jason Culpepper, president of the United Way of Central Arkansas Board of Directors, agreed. He cited Prince’s former experience with the United Way, as well as her tenure with Bethlehem House in Conway, a transitional homeless shelter. She was the resource-development director for the shelter for two years.
“She’s got a lot of years in the nonprofit world, and being from Conway and all the relationships she has … the board loves her experience and everything she brings to the table,” he said.
Culpepper said the position has been posted online, and applicants will be vetted and interviewed in December.
“Ideally, we would have someone in place by the end of the year,” he said.
Culpepper said that although he’s happy for Cahill Wicks, it is “bittersweet” losing someone of her caliber and the passion she brought to the organization.
“It’s very important that we get the right person,” Culpepper said.
He said the agency is planning a reception for Cahill Wicks in December at UCA Downtown, with the date to be determined.
Even with changes, Cahill Wicks said, the agency will thrive.
“It’s not one person; it really isn’t. I think it’ll go on for 60 more years, plus,” she said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-5671 or email@example.com.