The business of supporting nonprofits and the community was proceeding as usual at the beginning of March. In my role as chairman of-United Way of Tarrant County, things were going well. We had recently completed a nationwide executive search and made a wise choice in selecting Leah King as our president and CEO and she was performing admirably.
I was at the one-year mark of my chairmanship term and things were rocking along. Until we all were introduced to this new virus called “COVID-19.” At first, we collectively hoped it would remain outside the United States – but our interconnected world changed that immediately.
Hotspots flashed from nation to nation until we began experiencing cases not just in Texas, but here in Tarrant County. This virus was fierce, and it was in our county. It was in our hometowns.
Within days, schools were closed, as were businesses – some that would never open again. Many discovered a new normal: Work From Home. Many others were less fortunate. And as the days, then weeks and now months have passed, the needs of the community have continued to grow.
Amidst all of this, my perspective of United Way changed. United Way of Tarrant County has always been a safety net for nonprofits throughout our area, but it was being called upon to respond and provide resources in an unprecedented way.
I am so thankful now that we had selected Leah King as our new president and CEO. She provided such incredibly inspiring leadership that gave our amazing team – and the nonprofits that we serve – confidence that United Way was here to help in whatever way we could.
Truly, we found ourselves – UNITED – in service to our community. We quickly launched the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund and in a matter of months raised and distributed $1.4 million to address basic and critical needs in Tarrant County. Leah forged partnerships with public, private and other philanthropic entities to purchase and distribute free Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to area nonprofit and faith community organizations in dire need of such resources.
More recently, we have turned our attention to longer term recovery efforts in the community through our Rebuilt Tarrant County Fund. In addition, United Way has partnered with the City of Fort Worth to administer CARES Act Small Business Grants. Together, we are distributing approximately $15 million in grants to small businesses.
Phase 1 has been completed, with Fort Worth businesses receiving $6.5 million, with $2.9 million going toward the city’s minority-owned business and another $1.4 million to the city’s target areas. Phase 2 is underway with almost $9 million available to Fort Worth businesses.
United Way of Tarrant County also received just under $1 million in CARES Act funding from Tarrant County to support our PPE Distribution and Feed Tarrant programs.
The Fort Worth Business Press is honoring Leah King for “Coming to the Rescue from COVID” in conjunction with Mayor Betsy Price and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley.
Leah exemplifies the heart and soul of United Way and for how we care for our community. This pandemic is far from over, but it will subside. Looking ahead, future crises will arise, and United Way will be here to respond.
“Live United” has long been a branding theme for our organization. And in these times, I believe it is a mantra we can all recommit to and strive for as disaster doesn’t discriminate.
James Powell is chairman of the board at United Way of Tarrant County and. Assistant General Counsel / Deputy Counsel for Transportation at North Central Texas Council of Governments.