BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- United Way of Central Oregon Executive Director Ken Wilhelm is retiring after 34 years of service to the region. Whitney Swander, who will serve as interim executive director, will lead the organization’s transition, with a focus on reinventing United Way’s local business model and enhancing impact through an equity and social justice approach.
Swander brings more than 14 years of community outreach and engagement experience to United Way, including leadership positions with Foundations for a Better Oregon and Better Together Central Oregon.
“United Way, which was founded on a workplace giving model during World War II, has played an influential role in our communities. There are a number of individual agencies that didn’t exist prior to United Way’s support and partnership,” said Wilhelm, whose retirement begins on July 15. “I’m excited to watch our local organization evolve with the needs of our communities and adapt to new ideas for community engagement and charitable giving.”
Wilhelm said he’s looking forward to road trips, camping and hiking with his wife, visiting family, enjoying his three grown children and playing Opa and Nana to their first granddaughter.
With a focus on mobilizing communities around health, education, financial stability and resilience, the United Way has been raising and allocating local funds to nonprofit causes in Central Oregon since 1953. The local branch primarily served Bend before merging with the Redmond and Sisters United Way branches in 2002. Within the last five years, the organization expanded to serve Crook County, Jefferson County and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.
Swander’s vision includes strengthening the organization’s regional impact through building relationships and understanding the current community needs for collective action.
“Central Oregon is a lot different today than it was even two or three years ago, and we have an opportunity to reimagine and reinvent who the United Way is in a way that’s responsive to what Central Oregon needs today," said Swander.
"I think the future of the organization looks different than raising and distributing funds, and rather will focus on raising awareness about issues, building capacity, and sparking region-wide efforts that connect community members and local agencies, and mobilizes donors and businesses to invest in new ways,” she added.
According to Swander, the region’s growth, along with economic changes over the last three years, has made it even more important to consider principles of equity and inclusion in the United Way’s transition.
“The majority of issues that communities face in Central Oregon are longstanding and systemic," she said. "I believe that community building -- getting to know the people doing the work, being in dialogue, and creating solutions collaboratively with people impacted by our systems -- is essential to the next phase of the United Way.”
“I look forward to getting out into the community in the months ahead as the interim executive director. It’s easy to be disconnected from one another, given the pace of life and the challenges we face. The United Way, I hope, can help bring folks closer together, build understanding, and ignite energy and curiosity about new roles and ways of working in Central Oregon,” added Swander.
For more information, contact Whitney Swander at Whitney@unitedwaycentraloregon.org.
United Way is a 21 Cares for Kids partner.