Guest Blog: Jennie Eblen On Becoming Board Chair

Jennie EblenJennie Eblen On Becoming Board Chair

On February 19, 2020, United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County’s board of directors voted unanimously to have Jennie Eblen serve as our next board chair. With more than 23 years of service as a member of the board, a diligent volunteer on numerous committees and as a donor herself, Eblen is excited to help United Way usher in a new era of community impact. Below are some of her thoughts as she takes on this new role. 

By Jennie Eblen

I’ve been a long journey with United Way and I’m honored and enthusiastic to take on this board leadership position. 

I’ve been a board member since 1997. Whew! That’s a long time and I’ve even teased the Nominating & Governance Committee that while remaining on the board for so long is not a ‘best practice’, I’ve never declined to serve because I actually like being on this board – it is both meaningful and engaging.

What am I most proud of having accomplished during that time? 

  • I provided leadership during the birth of 211 in Buncombe County and the state-wide system. While we had long run a stellar information and referral center here in Buncombe County, Ann Von Brock, the former Vice President of United Way, and I were at the table in Raleigh when United Way of NC was first developing 211 for the state. 
  • I also was part of the volunteer leadership that transformed our paper-based volunteer center to a digital platform that promoted volunteerism countywide on behalf of the nonprofit community. 
  • I have been a steady proponent for United Way to do more public policy advocacy and participated in developing that work and served as chair when it was a board committee. 
  • But much of my volunteer efforts were devoted to the ongoing refinement and management of our grantmaking and community investments. 
  • I’ve been a Peaks donor for many years and my husband, Rick, and I recently increased our support and became Tocqueville donors a few years ago. 

Why have I committed 23 years of service to this organization? 

  • I believe in the power of collective giving. I’ve seen what my gift can do when combined with contributions, of all sizes, from people throughout our community. 
  • As a volunteer that guided the investment process for those donations for more than 20 years, I’m proud of the fact that we’ve continued to evolve our process and purpose. I’ve seen first hand how our staff and volunteers are always digging in to find ways to have a higher impact and be more collaborative and inclusive in our approach.
  • I also really like the people I get to meet along the way here. I hope all of you are aware of what a remarkable staff we have at United Way. They are the best! And I have made so many friends working with the other volunteers – I know you all are committed, thoughtful and caring people and I look forward to getting to know you better.

2015 United Way Asheville Board

(Photo of several members of the United Way Board with Jennie Eblen front, center | 2015)

A New Vision For The Future

As we prepare to celebrate our Centennial in 2021, we are also in the process of finalizing United Way’s 2020-23 Strategic Plan. This plan will help us re-envision how United Way tackles the root causes and consequences of poverty. It means addressing systemic change and requires that we incorporate a racial equity lens as we develop our work. My past experience as a community volunteer both with, and outside the organization, will inform my work as the board chair, but have to say I am really excited about our future – our new strategic plan is transformational for this organization and I am grateful to be able to help implement it. 

A Word Of Thanks To Paul McDowell

I can’t conclude this blog without acknowledging our immediate past board chair, Paul McDowell, for his significant service to this organization since 2014. Paul has served as chair of the Finance Committee, Strategic Planning Committee and eventually as board chair where he led the process for hiring Dan Leroy, our new President /CEO and he has supported Dan during this first year of leadership. I know that Paul was absolutely the right person at the right time for this work - he provided meticulous, wise and good-humored leadership throughout the process.  If you see Paul, please thank him for all he has done for our community. 

Join Us - Live United

Finally, whether you’ve never even heard of United Way or you’re a “seasoned veteran” like me, let’s commit ourselves to tackle the root causes and consequences of poverty. Let’s commit ourselves to our neighbors throughout Buncombe County.  A little or a lot, each of us can contribute the talent, experience and resources we will need to succeed.