Every year, at our annual Celebration, we take a moment to honor individuals and companies who embody the spirit of what we mean when we say "LIVE UNITED". Read more about each awardee below.
Volunteer of the Year
Presented to an individual who has demonstrated outstanding volunteerism and an extraordinary commitment to the community through United Way.
During the past year, Melinda Raab has served over 400 hours to further the mission of United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County. She has dedicated time each week to research, write, and consult on a number of projects including the complete revamp of all 109 agency descriptions on our website, the creation of a manual for partners listed on our site, and edited our internal volunteer handbook.
She has become a leadership giver not only of her time but also through her financial investment to United Way and partnering organizations. She regularly treats our staff to homemade goodies that would put the Great British Baking Show to shame. And she baked 150 heart-shaped cookies, in 3 different flavors, decorated with the word Yes for a recent Community Schools convening.
Exceptional Leadership Award
Presented to an organization or person who has demonstrated fundamental campaign management, remarkable leadership among peers and partnership with United Way.
Debra Campbell and the City of Asheville
The support of a United Way workplace campaign by the leadership of a company makes a huge difference. In fact, it can be a true game-changer. But the most successful campaigns often occur when leaders work with staff at all levels and across all departmental lines.
Debra Campbell was brand new to her role as Asheville City Manager when United Way staff first met with her about the city’s workplace campaign. It was clear to all that she understood what it would take to reinvigorate their efforts. Within weeks she joined United Way’s Board of Directors and immediately became a Leadership Giver herself.
Campbell asked Treva Williams from Human Resources to serve as the point person in the implementation of the city’s first-ever digital e-pledge campaign. Williams later told us that staff reviews were great, with real excitement generated around seeing results in real-time and reduced administrative effort. But the bottom line - it became easier to contribute. Williams believes that this resulted in a 52% increase in giving from the previous year.
Campbell encouraged her peers to give at a leadership level and regular email communications with all city staff kept attention on the need for the campaign.
Frank McGowen, the City’s Financial & Strategic Services Manager, spearheaded the new messaging strategy which included blogs and shared stories. “Getting messages out prior to E-pledge made a difference,” acknowledged McGowen.
McGowen also agrees that access to departmental leadership was critical. This “All Hands on Deck” challenge allowed additional city staff to become involved.
In this spirit, departments rallied to become more creative with a variety of fundraising strategies. New this year, Captain Joe Silberman, boosted campaign participation, resulting in a significant increase in giving from APD with a "No-Shave" December incentive. It’s true, grooming standards were “relaxed,” allowing officers the chance to let their hair down and grow beards & goatees for that month, a privilege paid for by a United Way donation!
Live United ACT (Action Changes Things)
This award is presented to an organization or person who actively and regularly moves people to action through volunteer service, policy changes, or financial investments that positively impact our community.
For the past 5 years, United Way, Asheville City Schools, Buncombe County Schools, and more than 50 partners have employed the community school strategy as a way to support students, strengthen families and engage our community.
In that time we’ve seen courageous leadership from a number of people, but today, we honor Principal April Dockery of Asheville Middle School.
April is originally from Asheville and is truly committed to our community. She raised all 7 of her children in the Asheville City School system and dedicates herself to creating a space where every child feels a sense of belonging and understands what they can offer the world around them.
Back in 2013, April attended a convening of 9 United Ways that were advancing graduation rates by using the community school strategy in their middle schools. Inspired by what others were accomplishing, April has since played a vital role in helping pull together school and community partners to launch this work at Asheville Middle and beyond.
As both a district leader and school principal, she has led the way by example, setting high expectations, putting accountability measures in place and lending critical support to bring projects to fruition. April knows that in order to make big systemic improvements, staff, parents and students all need to be true agents of change. It is because of her leadership:
The entire Asheville Middle faculty, along with several key community partners, are utilizing the Early Warning and Response System to streamline how they support students both in and out of the classroom.
Parent Leaders are now an active and thriving force at the school, embedded in several classrooms as support for both students and teachers.
During the first half-hour of each day teachers and students start off in Advisory time, checking in, building positive relationships, and creating a true sense of belonging at the school. They are building a compassionate culture and early signs indicate that this approach is helping to decrease the number of behavior referrals at the school.
And finally, over the past 3 years, Asheville Middle has experienced a 17 percent gain in the number of students who are on track in all 3 areas of attendance, behavior and core course grades.
What is clear to us is that April values student and parent voice and understands what is possible when we all work together. She can tell you exactly what her vision is for how Asheville Middle School operates as a lighthouse, a true hub of support for the Asheville and Cougar community.
Spirit of the Mountains
Honors businesses with excellence and leadership in community compassion and overall community service.
Bank of America
What makes the team at Bank of America so special you ask? Well in 2019, they provided a $15,000 grant to help ensure that local students and families had access to free homework help and a hot dinner at our weekly Homework Diners throughout Buncombe County.
But they didn’t stop when they wrote the check. They committed their people power, providing volunteer support for 6 homework diners and more than 50 volunteer hours last year.
Bank of America was also the presenting sponsor of United Way’s most successful Back to School Supply Drive yet, sending 2,800 local students back to school with fully-stocked backpacks!
They also displayed their commitment to promoting financial literacy by partnering with Erwin Middle to provide a fun and engaging series of financial literacy classes that students loved.
The list goes on and on and so to our friends at Bank of America, we thank you for your leadership and the compassionate Spirit you bring to OUR Mountains each and every day.
I’ll Raise My Voice
Recognizes an individual who speaks out on behalf of or educates others on issues that support and advance United Way’s work with exceptional adherence to specific values or standards, such as diversity, respect, creativity or innovation.
Lakesha McDay is a longtime supporter and leader at United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County. Lakesha joined our Board in 2017, but her first official role was as a Loaned Executive back in the mid 90’s! Not to throw math at you this early in the morning but that’s 25 years of community service through United Way.
Lakesha is an Asheville native. She is a graduate of UNC-Asheville and has a post-graduate certificate in Innovation Management from Western Carolina University. Her roots here are deep, and so is her commitment to making Asheville and Buncombe County a more inclusive and equitable place for everyone.
When Lakesha joined our Board, she very quickly became a leader and thought partner for our staff and board as we began our journey of centering equity and inclusion in our work. To that end, Lakesha served as a founding member of our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion working group. As a part of this team, Lakesha introduced us to the Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks assessment tool and guided our Board of Directors through the challenging process of assessing how our organization was supporting equity and inclusion through our: Vision and Strategy, Leadership and Accountability, and our Organizing Structure.
Once this initial assessment was complete, Lakesha led our staff and Board through the process of establishing our organization’s Equity and Inclusion Vision statement. This immersive experience of clearly articulating our Equity and Inclusion Vision truly galvanized our staff and Board around this commitment.
We are all in agreement. We would not be where we are today - with an ever-increasing clarity around the tremendous work United Way needs to do to transform how we show up in our community - without Lakesha’s leadership. We are so thankful to have Lakesha as a leader in our organization and in our community.