Friday, April 25, 2014
A Georgetown girl, Pat Strickland has devoted her life to her hometown and in doing so, made a world of difference for many in Georgetown County.
On June 30 she will step down as CEO of the United Way in Georgetown after 21 years of service.
Under her guidance, the United Way has grown and prospered benefiting county residents in ways unimagined 20 years ago.
Strickland (neé Mallard) graduated from Georgetown High along with her brothers Bobby and Ricky.
Her dad worked for 30 years at the paper mill and her mom worked for many years at Georgetown Memorial Hospital.
After high school she moved to Florence and worked in insurance at the C&S Bank for 10 years. There she met her first husband and they had two daughters – Amanda and Shanna.
In 1980 she met and married Dean Strickland. Together they had Dean Jr. and Mary Lou. In 1981 they moved to Litchfield Beach to be near her parents who were not in good health.
Her children attended Waccamaw Elementary and Middle schools and Georgetown High.
Her husband and she worked together, hanging wallpaper, for 13 years. She handled not only the hanging of wallpaper, but the bookkeeping and customer relations. Perfect preparation for her next job.
“I was in my 40s and knew that at 60 I wouldn’t be able to hang wallpaper and if I wanted a career I could work in until retirement I needed to do something,” she laughed.
Nell Jackson, her best friend throughout school, was the executive director of the United Way.
In 1993, Jackson told her there was an opening at the United Way and Strickland jumped at it. At that time there were only two employees – the executive director and a bookkeeper. Strickland became the bookkeeper.
“That was back when we did everything by hand.”
Strickland worked with Jackson for eight years.
“As the United Way grew and expanded, I began working in all different aspects of the organization,” she said, “including fundraising and allocations. I learned the United Way from the ground up.”
Then, in 2000, tragedy struck. While in Charleston at a S.C. Association of Non Profits Org. meeting, Jackson suffered from two aneurysms that ultimately left her unable to return to work.
“It was still just Nell and me and a part-time person,” said Strickland. “For six months we operated on a ‘wait and see’ how Nell would recover but in the end she couldn’t come back and the board asked me to be the executive director.”
“I had mixed emotions,” she continued. “Nell and I were best friends since high school and it was a personal loss and well as a professional loss.”
Strickland asked the board for training through the United Way of America and getting its approval she accepted. She also took the first course ever offered in nonprofit leadership at Francis Marion University.
The board’s wisdom was soon proven and 14 years later she leaves a legacy of service, strong programs and exceptional work in and for the community.
Strickland notes how the United Way as an organization – now United Way International (UWI) – has changed over the years.
“It began to raise money and distribute it to nonprofits,” she explained. “It had the ability to organize workplace campaigns which the nonprofits did not have.”
But, she said, in the last 10 years the donors have changed. They have begun demanding evidence of community impact.
“They want to see results.”
Each United Way is autonomous. This enables it to assess its community, determine its community’s specific needs and help bring in programs to address those needs.
“If no one is providing [a service] we will.”
After assessing need on a national level, UWI determined the needs common to the majority of communities were education, financial stability and health.
“If you have these three building blocks of life,” Strickland explained, “you will be a stable, productive citizen and able to take care of your family.”
Locally, the board has determined Georgetown County’s greatest need is early childhood education and has decided to focus on that.
To that end, in June, a pilot program is starting at Sampit Elementary School in the form of a summer enrichment program for 40 students. Eventually, the program may expand to all the county schools.
But that’s not all Strickland and her dedicated staff have accomplished.
The United Way also operates the AmeriCorps-Vista Program with funding from federal grants and the Bunnelle Foundation providing seven Vista volunteers to local nonprofits; Get Connected, an online program that is a virtual volunteer center connecting the interests of people with like-agencies; they instituted the 2-1-1 hotline system for citizens in crisis situations; they implement the Dolly Parton Imagination Library through funding from Bunelle Foundation, putting books in the hands each month of children; and they expanded the United Way into Williamsburg County.
Quite a legacy.
Board chair Paul Gardner said “Pat Strickland, for more than 20 years, has been an absolute champion for the causes of our partner agencies in Georgetown and Williamsburg counties and her care and compassion are evident in everything she does.”
Strickland credits her staff – Yolanda McCray, community impact director; Philip Keilin, resource development consultant and Mary Wright, financial director – for the success of the United Way here.
“It has grown,” she said, “but not enough … we need a full time fundraiser.”
“So much of what I do is a little of all of it … you have to oversee all aspects as well as work on fundraising and impact.”
“Pat has been an enormous help to me since I moved to Georgetown County three years ago and joined the nonprofit world,” said Anne Faul, executive director of the Smith Medical Clinic. “Her knowledge of this area and its history are invaluable to our community. My favorite thing about Pat is how excited she gets about new ideas and new ways of doing things. Her enthusiasm and optimism are contagious.”
“She really loves this community,” said Geales Sands, executive director of the Bunnelle Foundation, “and her work has made a difference.”
In addition to all this, Strickland also manages to find the time to serve on the United Way Association of South Carolina board, Bridge2Bridge (its annual fundraising event) half-marathon committee and the Early Learning Council of Georgetown County.
“Pat has a heart for the citizens of Georgetown County, especially those who are the most vulnerable,” said Betsy Marlow, executive director,
Miss Ruby’s Kids. “She is a wonderful person and I wish her well in her retirement.”
“I am 63,” laughed Strickland, “and I think that in everyone’s professional life there comes a time to step aside and bring someone new and fresh into an organization. I have taken it through change and brought it to where it is ready to take off … it is positioned to move forward successfully.”
She has a vision that includes more focus on retirees. “If we can do that the United Way can grow. If the financial piece grows then everything else we have set up will grow … that’s what I want … to see it blossom into what it can be.”
What will she do with her free time?
“I am going to spend more time with family,” which includes five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren and her husband, who builds custom oyster roast tables.
“I enjoy working with him and I plan to help him with that.”
She also hopes, she said, “to do something part time in the community “but I don’t know what it is yet!”
“I have been in nonpropfit for 21 years … it is where my heart is, what I care about.”
But, she concluded, “whatever I do it has to be something meaningful … and fun.”