Gwinnett United Way director says goodbye after 12 years

EDITOR'S NOTE - Jean Walker of Gwinnett County Public Schools was among the speakers at Thursday's United Way's 2005 campaign kickoff. As part of her speech, Walker read a letter written by Deb Roberts, who served as area director for United Way in Gwinnett for 12 years. Excerpts of the letter follow:

Dear Friends:

I write this letter to say goodbye and thank you. My family and I are fulfilling a longtime dream of moving to Colorado. I will be the executive director of a nonprofit organization in Denver called Project PAVE, which stands for Promoting Alternatives to Violence through Education. It works with high school and middle school youth, empowering them to break the cycle of relationship violence. The experience I have gained through my work with United Way will be invaluable!

... I absolutely love the work of our new United Way and loved advancing that work in the community where I lived for 20 years, where I raised my children, where I attended church, and where my dear, dear friends lived, worked and played. ...

I reflect back to the mid-1990s when Gwinnett stepped up to conduct a pilot for the new work of United Way, working collaboratively in the community to tackle those issues the community cared about most.

Taking the issue of helping children be ready to learn by the time they entered kindergarten, we went to the community of Norcross and began by enlisting the passionate involvement of the principal of Norcross Elementary School, Jean Walker. In addition to the school system, we enlisted involvement of the city of Norcross, police, churches, nonprofit agencies, corporations and parents.

Through the incredible efforts of people with passion - Jean, Beauty Baldwin, Dave Nicholson of Rock Tenn - dedicated agency executives, companies and parents, exciting and meaningful changes occurred! Most obvious is the A. Worley Brown Boys & Girls Club and Community Center. Unique in the nation, it houses the Boys & Girls Club, Sheltering Arms Child Development Center, a well-used community meeting space, and a gym. ...

United Way continues with the goal of helping our children be ready for school through the SPARK program. Once again, an awesome collaboration between many groups who are working in the Norcross area to help our children and families be prepared for school. United Way again serves as the catalyst and facilitator, engaging many who together can make a difference.

I reflect also on our Women's Legacy effort, bringing together women in our community network, and understand the power and privilege they have in effecting positive change in Gwinnett through philanthropy. It is truly humbling when you hear about incredible work hundreds of women in Gwinnett undertake to help someone in need. What an honor it is to recognize their efforts at our Legacy Awards Gala.

And my, what support we have received from our companies! Our companies, their employees and countless individuals have been so generous over the years.

I love United Way and the work we do together. I know you understand that it takes all of us - working together - to make Gwinnett great. Please keep up the important work!

As I close, I say a heartfelt thank you to every one of my board members, past and present, who have shared the same passion and vision. I thank the incredible agency execs that have worked collaboratively to meet the needs of our growing and changing community. I thank the thousands of volunteers who support the work of United Way in this community.

... And lastly, please know that you continue to have the best United Way staff anywhere with Debbie McMinn, Pat Hart, Mandi Long and Jane Hamilton!

Thank you for the honor and privilege of serving as your United Way director. I will remember with tremendous fondness my many years here in Gwinnett! I'll miss you all and wish you many blessings.

Much Love,