It was a morning to remember: More than 300 United Way Tocqueville Society and Leaders United members and guests gathered at the Baltimore Hyatt Regency Hotel to enjoy a spirited address by Baltimore City Mayor Catherine Pugh on March 9. It was the largest audience ever assembled for a United Way “In Their Own Words” Breakfast Series presentation.
Mayor Pugh shared her vision for the city and referenced some of the challenges it faces. She also talked about the good things happening in our city, such as the mobile vision exam and eyeglass distribution units, which on the day before had provided its 1,000th pair of glasses. “Can you imagine a young person living in poverty, whose mom or dad may not be there, or is addicted to drugs, and they are labeled ‘difficult to teach’ in school because they can’t see the board or the words in a book clearly? We have a responsibility to ensure our young people are the best that they can be,” she said, noting that kids need eyeglasses and meals, along with the services and resources that United Way provides.
Funded by a federal grant, the mobile vision units inspired the Mayor to brainstorm a similar, mobile approach to help others in the city. “There are people who are waiting for help, and people who want to be part of the solution. We have 76,000 unemployed [people] in this city. How do I get these people working?” she asked. She recounted a very early morning idea she had for mobile units that provide job opportunities and training as well as mental health services and addiction support. So far, one mobile unit has been funded by the state, and there is a commitment for another three vehicles. Her goal: Seven units that hire 70 people each day. “Even if I get to 25 percent of that goal, it would make a difference. But we need to tackle problems like these together,” she said. “And that’s why the work United Way does is so important.”
The mayor also talked about the high number of people experiencing homelessness in Baltimore: 3,000 without homes and 500 sleeping on the streets every night. “This is a problem for you as a business person, for the community and for those on the street. We have to do better.”
“How do you lift a person to another lifestyle? We’re providing shelters, but would you want to share a room and shower with 100 other people? No. You want to feel safe, whether you’re mentally ill, drug addicted or homeless because you just couldn’t keep that mortgage up. We all want to go to ‘our place,’ to be able to shut the door and relax and think about the next day.” She envisioned for the audience a shelter facility offering more privacy for residents, and important supports such as a cafeteria serving three meals a day, onsite childcare, job education and training and mental health and addiction services. “There are people who understand this—we just need someone to lead and provide the vision to solve these problems.”
Mayor Pugh asked attendees to work together and inspire others to effect positive change in our city, which, she said, demands collaboration. “You’re the leaders who will help bring others along. That’s why this is a partnership. And that’s why you are all so important. Don’t give because you can. Give because you have to. Because if we’re going to change the trajectory of our city, if we’re going to change lives…it will be because of you.”
On a beautiful day overlooking the City of Baltimore, nearly 100 leaders, community activists and generous philanthropists gathered to hear from Baltimore native and award-winning reporter and editor, Trif Alatzas, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of the Baltimore Sun Media Group. Alatzas joined United Way of Central Maryland and guests for an exclusive “In Their Own Words” Breakfast Series presentation. The event was attended by United Way Tocqueville Society members and staff at The Center Club earlier this month.
United Way Board Chair Jim Wheeler welcomed attendees to the event and referenced Alatzas’ strong Baltimore roots.
Opening remarks were offered by Baltimore City District Court Judge Halle Weinstein. Weinstein has been instrumental in the development of the United Way Veterans Treatment Docket (VTD), which provides services and support to veterans charged with misdemeanor crimes. Judge Weinstein, herself a veteran, credited United Way for making the VTD possible, and encouraged any veterans in the audience to become involved.
We’re lucky to have a great Baltimore native and leader in charge of our hometown newspaper,” said Paul Tiburzi, Esq., in his introduction of Alatzas. Tiburzi is Managing Partner of DLA Piper, which generously sponsors “In Their Own Words.” Noting the ubiquity of social media news, he called The Baltimore Sun his “window on the world.”
Alatzas, who’s held a lifelong fascination with the news and reporters, worked his way up the ranks from interning at The Evening Sun to his current position, which combines leading the business side of the Baltimore Sun Media Group, and overseeing editorial content and policies for the company’s many print and online communication outlets.
Like United Way of Central Maryland, the Baltimore Sun Media Group has invested deeply in our community; serves Baltimore City and the surrounding counties of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard; and engenders trust and upholds integrity through transparency.
Speaking about the evolution of the company, Alatzas said, “We decided to focus on what we do best,” and cited the 200 Baltimore Sun Media Group journalists who cover the region every day, balancing their in-depth coverage with context and history so that readers get the full story.
Alatzas also spoke to the “elephant in the room:” the shifting media landscape of today’s digital world, and how that’s expanded readership for The Sun and its affiliates in new and engaging ways. “Think about how much the world has changed: how you bank, shop, watch TV and movies, or check in at the airport. The Sun has weathered these changes, and is now publishing 24/7 through our digital and social media outlets.” Each month, more than five million people engage with a Baltimore Sun Media Group outlet. Stringent policies ensure that the same editorial standards are applied to the company’s digital communications, including its online newspapers and Twitter and Facebook feeds.
When asked when The Sun might print its last newspaper, Alatzas assured those in attendance that print readership remains strong, with nine out of ten households in the region receiving a printed Baltimore Sun Media Group product, and a healthy Sun readership of 700,000 on weekends.
In her closing remarks, Dana Gloor, Miles & Stockbridge P.C. Principal and United Way of Central Maryland Board Member said she will long remember Altazas’ description of “a beautiful protest” on the street outside his office days after the Baltimore unrest in the spring of 2015. Peaceful in nature, some national cable stations portrayed the event as threatening and violent. “That’s when it hit me—that was the difference between what they do, and what we do,” said Alatzas.
Alatzas spoke proudly of The Sun’s extensive coverage of the Baltimore unrest. He contrasted its balanced coverage—rich in contextual and historical background—with that of some national media outlets that presented a very different picture of the city.
“We hold our leaders and others accountable for their actions, and shine a light on very important issues. That means highlighting our many successes, but we’re also here to detail the deficiencies. The Sun’s motto is ‘Light for all.’ Shining a light on the issues is what we do.”
In addition to The Sun, other Baltimore Sun Media Group news outlets carrying this torch include The Aegis (Harford County), Capital Gazette (Anne Arundel County) and City Paper (Baltimore and surrounding areas), among others.
The Tocqueville Society’s next “In Their Own Words” Breakfast Series presentation in December will include a panel presentation moderated by WJZ TV anchor Denise Koch and feature college and university presidents Samuel Hoi, Maryland Institute College of Art; Jay Perman, M.D., University of Maryland, Baltimore; and David Wilson, Ed.D., Morgan State University. The panel will discuss “How the Power of an Anchor Institution Can Transform Communities.” For more information, or to find out how you can become a member of the Tocqueville Society and enjoy benefits such as exclusive networking, volunteer and family fun events, please contact Holly Hoey at firstname.lastname@example.org, 410 895 1406.
Mark Furst, President and Chief Executive Officer of United Way of Central Maryland, will be leaving his post after 12 years of inspirational and transformative leadership at the end of October to join the Kennedy Krieger Institute as Senior Vice President of External Relations.
During his tenure, Mark has made United Way of Central Maryland financially stronger and shifted the organization’s programmatic focus to family stability while improving the public’s perception of and affinity for United Way.
Prior to joining the organization in 2004, he worked for over 25 years in banking, primarily in executive positions at M&T Bank and its predecessors. He has been recognized three times as an “Influential Marylander” by The Daily Record and was named one of Baltimore Business Journal’s “Power 20: The Next Generation.”
We recently asked Mark about his time with United Way of Central Maryland, his accomplishments, and the positive impact that the organization has made on lives and communities under his leadership.
You’ve done much to change the focus and direction of UWCM, and many times we’ve heard you and others within the organization say, “We’re not your grandfather’s United Way.” What has changed most during your tenure?
I was incredibly honored to take the helm of an 85-year old organization that has adapted time and time again to address our community’s needs. United Way of Central Maryland had become primarily known for its ability and expertise in mass fundraising. Sure, we were part of a safety net for the community, but not in a proactive way. Resources were spread over such a large field that we couldn’t provide strong, data-based evidence of what we were yielding, and it was difficult to show return on investment to our donors. When I became president and CEO, I emphasized that our focus needed to be crystal clear, and that success must be measured, very simply, in terms of helping more people.
United Way’s work and allocation of resources are now quite intentional and sustainable. Many of the human service program models we’ve implemented in recent years have proven successful in other United Way cities, and we’ve adapted them locally. We also recognize that what’s needed most and what we can do best may be different in each of the six jurisdictions we serve.
Our focus is now on investing deeper into services for families in high need communities who are struggling, and providing the building blocks they need for stable lives: health, education, housing and employment. We carefully analyze practices and programs that are working and making a real difference in people’s lives, and invest in those. We’re now able to utilize our resources for sustainable change, and to ensure that donor dollars are being used in the most effective way possible.
And I believe we are better listeners and collaborators and partners. We are working more and more with area schools and faith communities, health and police departments, state and local government, foundations and other nonprofits. We saw this collaboration in action after the unrest in Baltimore City in 2015, when so many groups worked with us to quickly raise almost $600,000 for the communities that were impacted the most.
Affinity groups created under your leadership—such as Emerging Leaders United and Leaders United—and new initiatives such as Project Homeless Connect are driving great change for the organization and those it serves. Tell us a little about these.
I’m especially proud of these groups, which also include Women United and our leadership donors in the Tocqueville Society. They are channeling their passion and compassion to help others, and I’m glad that they trust us to be a connection to that.
Baltimore Project Homeless Connect, an annual event in which we match people in need with thousands of really caring volunteers and effective, much-needed services, is truly a metaphor for what United Way does 365 days a year—through our programs, fundraising, grant making, our 2-1-1 Maryland United Way Helpline and more. It’s a very powerful way for people to participate in and learn about our work and see the life-changing results it brings.
What are you most proud of having accomplished during your time with United Way of Central Maryland?
When I came to United Way, I perceived that our organization needed to foster greater trust in the community. It was tough to hear feedback that we were perceived as arrogant and bureaucratic. When people are giving charitable dollars, they want to make sure their money is well stewarded and really helping people who need it.
Our credo is that best way to engender trust is through transparency—by being clear and focused about what we do best, by demonstrating that we know where work needs to be done, and by doing it with excellence and in accordance with best practices.
I’m most proud of the fact that we’ve become a truly trusted partner among donors, nonprofits, businesses, government agencies, organizations, funders and grantmakers. We’ve come remarkably far and helped a lot of people along the way.
You came to United Way of Central Maryland with an extensive background in the financial industry. How have your years here changed your worldview?
My work in the banking field served me greatly at United Way. At our heart, we’re a business in service to others, and we have to operate like a business. We need to spend money wisely and make the right investments at the right time. As they say, “There is no mission without a margin.”
But I also recognize that our return on our investment is not measured only in dollars and cents, but also in the quality of the lives we touch. United Way has changed me in that I have much greater empathy for the struggles faced by so many people in poverty, and how difficult it is to escape the gravitational pull of multigenerational poverty.
I’ve also learned that many in the business sector often underestimate their impact on the community. People working in the corporate or business sectors frequently say to me, “I’d like a career change—to work where I can help people, like you do.” I tell them that they are helping—by running a strong business and generating tax revenues, serving as board members and volunteers, through their charitable contributions, by hiring people who need jobs and as a result of their community outreach efforts. They’re already making a huge difference and improving our communities. I am very pro-business!
Not only are you moving on to a new and exciting position, but United Way of Central Maryland will also soon be moving to new office space in South Baltimore’s Montgomery Park. What does this move signal to donors and to those United Way serves?
The move will result in a significant financial savings for United Way of Central Maryland, which means we can bring more life-stabilizing programs into the areas we serve. And a new location with free and ample parking will make it easier to convene our partners and guests. Look for a sign everyone will see from I-95, too!
You stated in a recent Baltimore Business Journal interview that you wouldn’t be leaving if United Way of Central Maryland wasn’t “on a good vector.” In what ways is the organization poised to continue its forward motion following your departure?
We know and have quantifiable evidence that our programs are working. We’re improving lives—in the areas of housing, education, access to healthy food and so much more. We’re making a demonstrable impact in targeted, high need areas. One of many, many examples would be our programs at Benjamin Franklin High School in the south Baltimore’s Brooklyn neighborhood, where we partnered to open the city’s first United Way Family Center. Our on-site childcare center has enabled teen mothers to return to school, obtain their critically important high school diplomas, and become better parents at the same time. Our sustained investments at Ben Franklin have also been credited with a significant decrease in teacher turnover—because students who have the support they need and are in stable families mean less stress for their teachers.
Will you be taking any time off between positions, and if so, what are your plans?
I’m taking all of Saturday and Sunday off. I’m just going to dive right into my new position at Kennedy Krieger. Until then, I will continue to give United Way of Central Maryland 100 percent to ensure a smooth transition to its next leader.
What is one piece of advice you would you give your successor?
Ask your colleagues and coworkers what they think the organization should do, and heed the advice, recommendations and wisdom of our terrific team. I’m blessed to have worked side by side with a fantastic group of professionals who have driven our work—and inspired me—to the point where this organization is viewed and respected as a trusted liaison between donors and those in need. My departure is a great opportunity for the next president to grow and expand United Way of Central Maryland to continue our life-changing work, and to help even more people.
Are there any other thoughts you’d like to share?
I’ve worked with and come to know some of the most caring people around: our donors. Sometimes that’s donor who can afford to donate $10,000, but more often, it is someone for whom a gift of $3 per week is a true sacrifice. I thank each and every one of them. Everything we do we owe to their trust in us. Because of their generosity, United Way of Central Maryland is increasingly in a position to help people in need.
For more than 90 years, United Way of Central Maryland has been improving lives in the communities it serves: Anne Arundel County, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Carroll County, Harford County and Howard County, Maryland.
United Way of Central Maryland is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization! | Tax ID: 52-0591543