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United Way recognizes volunteers, outgoing director at its annual meeting

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Jim Cieslar makes a speech about his upcoming retirement during the United Way annual meeting at the Hilton on Wednesday.


By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Measuring its successes was the theme of the United Way of Pitt County’s annual meeting held on Wednesday.

The event, which traditionally involves the election of its new board members and recognition of volunteers, built on a theme of “Miles of Progress” by reviewing several outstanding moments in the organization’s history. The organization also recognized Executive Director Jim Cieslar who is retiring in August.

The United Way of Pitt County began in 1953 when local citizens, organized under the name Community Chest, discussed how to best support the community. Five years later a group of 30 individuals organized the Pitt County United Fund and raised nearly $90,000 which supported a dozen agencies, said Chuck Pascarelli, outgoing board chairman.

“The structure has become more complex, but the ideas are still the same,” Pascarelli said. “The United Way still provides a safety net of basic needs services but we now also focus on school success and workforce development.”

Today, 57 percent of the organization’s funding supports school success program such as Parents for Public Schools, which has had 277 parents participate in its Parent Engagement Program and Academy.

Community groups meeting basic needs such as providing food, shelter and clothing receive 35 percent of the United Way’s funding. The Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina had more than 3 million pounds of food delivered in Pitt County and Community Crossroads Center provided 542 individuals with emergency shelter.

Eight percent goes to workforce development programs like Life of NC/STRIVE, where 227 individuals have earned their career readiness certification which is a uniform measure of workplace skills.

Pascarelli said that ultimately, it is the support and leadership of individuals who are the ones who make a difference in the community.

Elizabeth Ward, Title I contact and community outreach coordinator at Falkland Elementary School, was presented the Pitt County Volunteer of the Year Award.

About eight years ago Ward and other volunteers at the school organized a “Backpack Pals” program that supplies students with food so they have food over the weekend. About 75 children receive backpacks, said Robin Dailey, Early Grades Student Success Academy program coordinator. Ward also has worked with local churches and industries to establish a school-based food pantry, helps make clothing available to students so they can have a school uniform and secures school supplies for students.

“We have a lot of need in our school,” Ward said. Falkland’s student population is less than 300, she said, so at any given time between 20 percent to up to 30 percent of the school’s students receive backpacks.

“We have never had to turn anybody away, we’ve been so fortunate to have so much giving that we’ve never had to say no to a family,” Ward said.

The United Way offers tremendous help by sponsoring The Boys & Girls Clubs of of the Coastal Plains, the Early Grades Student Success Academy and numerous other educational support programs such as the Kids Read Now program, which gives students in kindergarten through third grade nine books to read during the summer to prevent reading loss.

“The United Way, without their support, so many of those resources would not be available,” Ward said.

“Her uplifting, positive attitude spreads joy throughout her school and community as she models helping others, serving our community and inspiring her colleagues to do the same,” Dailey said.

Jim Cox, United Way Homeless Services coordinator, was presented the organization’s Community Advocate Award.

Cieslar started the presentation by defining an advocate as someone who fights for the rights of others.

“(Cox) has worked tirelessly in the community to coordinate and sustain partnerships between agencies and organizations that work on homeless issues,” Cieslar said. Cox brought new ideas for reducing evictions and better screening methods to help homeless veterans receive services.

“I am really humbled by this,” Cox said. “I am one of many people who spend a lot of time working with our very vulnerable population here in Greenville so I greatly appreciate this.”

By focusing on bringing individuals and organizations together to focus on housing and homelessness they are now able to identify individuals who are homeless or who are at risk of homelessness and connect them to needed services, he said.

Publix Supermarket, which will soon mark its second anniversary in Greenville, was presented the Spirit of Community Award which recognizes a business that offers “outstanding support of the United Way” and the community.

Since opening, Publix employees have volunteered more than a thousand hours in a year, working with organizations such as the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, Community Crossroads Center and Ronald McDonald House of Eastern North Carolina, United Way director of community impact.

Pascarelli then recognized Cieslar, who is retiring in August after working more than 40 years with various United Way agencies across the country.

“While Jim has had a number of different titles they are really irrelevant,” Pascarelli said. “When you look at Jim and his career it has nothing to do with titles it all has to do with the heart. I can honestly say Jim is one of the most passionate, committed selfless people that I have ever had the privilege of meeting.

“If I were to sum up Jim’s career, he is a community problem solver spanning from basic needs to illiteracy,” Pascarelli said.

Cieslar thanked the individuals who gave him a chance to participate in “the transformation of the United Way from a traditional fundraising organization to a vehicle for community change and community impact.”

He then went on to thank the organizations, donors, volunteers, the agencies the United Way works with, past and current United Way staff and his wife, Ibi.

“I wouldn’t have done this without you and your support. It’s been a long and winding 41 years … now it’s Ibi time,” he said.

Community Impact

The following are examples of the work United Way partner agencies undertook in 2018:

 Early Grades Student Success Academy: 550 kindergarten through third grade students participated in after school and summer reading, character education and STEAM activities to improve their reading skills.

■ Meals on Wheels: More than 13,000 hot meals were delivered to home-bound seniors.

■ Center for Family Violence Prevention: 82 percent of women sheltered received counseling and support services.

■ Boys & Girls Club: 600 children received comprehensive homework and tutoring help.

■ Operation Sunshine: 35 girls ages 5-13 participated in the mentoring and tutorial program.

■ Family Violence Project: 106 women and children obtained safe and stable housing.

■ Nurse-Family Partnership: 104 low-income first-time partners received a support system.

■ Imagination Library: More than 60 percent of Pitt County children ages 5 and under have received a free monthly book.

REAL Crisis Center: Approximately 260 calls are received daily by the 24-hour hotline.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.