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Nonprofits: United Way director shifts focus to needs

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County United Way board chairman Paul Gardner called new executive director and CEO Lucy Woodhouse a perfect fit for the organization and the top choice among 78 applicants.

“I tease her that she had me at hello,” said Gardner, chief of police in Georgetown. “She has that ability to make you feel real comfortable and realize she is sincere and believes in the mission.”

Woodhouse, who replaced Pat Strickland as head of the organization covering Georgetown and Williamsburg counties last week, already knows her way around. In the 1990s, she volunteered at Habitat for Humanity and ended up as executive director. As president of the Interagency Council, she and the Rev. Alan Houghton formed the teen group Service Over Self.

Like many residents, Woodhouse grew up vacationing at North Litchfield. “They call this South Greenville,” she said with a laugh. She married, had two sons and moved to Charlotte. After a divorce, she returned to Greenville to run the Osher Lifelong Learning Center at Furman University but left to find another challenge. “I wanted to do something more with what skills and talents I had,” she said. “I threw my name out into the wind and found this job, and here we are.”

Gardner said her experience with Habitat for Humanity and Service Over Self in Georgetown County gave her an edge over other applicants. “Everywhere she went she was successful,” Gardner said. “We were really looking for someone with strong fund development and grant-writing experience. She hit all those boxes.

“I guess what got me was her sincerity of purpose and the fact that she was really truly speaking from the heart, and the fact that United Way is part of being something bigger than you. With your little part in United Way, you can made a big difference with others.”

Woodhouse and her sons Colt, 15, and Bryson, soon to be 14, and their dog Bob have moved into a condo at True Blue until their house in Greenville sells. The boys are in the Waccamaw schools and beginning to acclimate to new surroundings. Colt tried out for the sailing club last week and has been marching with the Waccamaw High band. Bryson plans to try out for the Waccamaw Middle School soccer team.

Woodhouse said she’s ready for a new challenge too. Her experience in grant writing, fund-raising and volunteer management, she said, fit the job description of the United Way and the direction the board wants to go. “I feel like we’ve got an opportunity to reinvent ourselves,” she said. “We have to figure out how to get people involved. I think we just need to start delivering what we promised and rebuild the confidence of everyone.”

Woodhouse said the United Way showed its strength after last September’s fire on Front Street when it helped gather and distribute money to the displaced victims. “We are set up to respond to the needs of the community,” she said.

Woodhouse sees even more potential. “This community is incredibly caring and is generous to itself and supports itself,” she said. “We need a way to get more people involved so they understand what the United Way is really doing.” She said feedback from campaign leaders said the organization needed to do a better job of getting community leaders to give and show they believe in the organization’s direction.

Woodhouse said change is coming, beginning with the allocation process. “The model this United Way has been using is very different from what most United Ways are doing,” she said. “On the national level, they are identifying areas in their community that really need help and responding to that need instead of funding anyone who applies for that money. So we are really looking at changing the allocation process and identifying key needs that are assessed through data surveys from economic development, Kids Count and the Bunnelle Foundation. Currently, we are not funding the priority needs in the community or identifying where services are falling down. Our job as a United Way is to be one of the leaders to say our community needs this and bring together non-profits, the corporate community, small businesses and individuals to figure out how we solve that problem.”

Woodhouse said the organization’s mission is to address needs in Georgetown and Williamsburg counties but never got around to changing its name from the Georgetown County United Way. “We have been connected to Williamsburg,” she said, “but there’s never been a lot of follow-through.” She hopes to change the organization’s name to reflect its two-county mission. “The Chamber in Williamsburg is ready for us,” she said. “It’s just a matter of going up there and teaching them how to conduct campaigns.”

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