Nonprofit Spotlight: Lanita Tolentino, United Way of Mass Bay and Merrimack Valley
Each week, GivingSomeThing published the Nonprofit Spotlight, featuring the Needs List manager of one of our Nonprofit Partners. The goal of the Nonprofit Spotlight is to bring awareness to the daily activities of nonprofits, and to become more familiar with the people who serve their missions every day.
1) Briefly describe the work that United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley does, and your involvement at the organization.
United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley brings our communities together to help improve people’s lives and strengthen the neighborhoods in our region. As the Volunteer Engagement Director I bring volunteer opportunities to United Way supporters and friends; broadening their understanding of our work.
2) How did you become involved in nonprofit work? Is there a particular story or event that has motivated your work?
I grew up in Roxbury – a Boston neighborhood that continues to work for a better future. During my upbringing I was afforded the opportunity to step out of my immediate neighborhood for my education and expand my world view. I always felt that when I was able I would give back to my community in some way while helping others broaden their experiences and opportunities. So after nine years of working in corporate America from New York to Washington DC I decided I wanted to come home and work more closely with my own community. Four years ago I started with United Way because of this desire and have been here since.
3) What is the most powerful event you have witnessed since working at United Way?
Anytime I am out in the community doing direct work with individuals is powerful- but there is one volunteer opportunity that always is most powerful to me. Our Thanksgiving Project has gone from feeding 1,000 families to 5,000 in just three short years, with the hopes of possibly growing it again this year. Our philosophy behind this event is that if we can help a family with their holiday meal, that means more money is put back into their pockets and more food will be on the table for families working hard to make it through every day. The Thanksgiving Project takes a lot of time and effort, mostly during the week leading up to the event. From watching the thousands of pounds of food that is delivered- to interacting with clients that come to the site where we are housed for the week, every moment is truly a moment that sticks with me. The overall beauty of this event is that although so many people are waiting to receive food it is always a beautiful and cheery day as people from all walks life join together.
4) Describe the most difficult challenges facing your organization
Often times it is helping people better understand the relevance of our work at United Way. We are not always a direct service organization, we are one of the few funders that help non-profits with their operating budgets that also provides programs and services. This combination means that our on the ground understanding of assisting the community directly impacts how we can best help our partner agencies accomplish their work. In my eyes we are in the kitchen helping to stir the pot so that the soup can feed the people out front.
5) What is most rewarding about your work?
Getting out into the community. It is rewarding to join dozens of other willing and able hands, to see that a community need is met- and then looking at a volunteer’s face and seeing a smile after they have worked to help an individual out.
6) How would you advise other nonprofits to effectively move towards their missions?
One thing I have always noticed with nonprofit work is that there has to be passion for your cause. So first, make sure that the passion for your work shows outwardly through each employee. Once the passion is there make sure that it spreads like wildfire through creating advocates in friends, family, and associates. Lastly, ask for help accomplishing your mission – you cannot move mountains on your own.
7) What is important for supporters to know about United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley?
United Way recruits people and organizations who bring the passion, expertise, and resources needed to get things done. Our partner agencies are carefully selected through a rigorous application process that determines their effectiveness when collaborating for creating greater impact throughout our communities.
8) From Amber Baker, Village Gardens: How do you support the leadership of the individuals your program seeks to serve or support? How do you ensure that your staff, leadership, and board truly reflect the community where you do your work?
We believe it’s important for our organization to reflect the diversity of the communities we serve - 28% of our staff is racially diverse, which is just one measure of our diversity. As a commitment to creating a more inclusive and welcoming region, United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley is an original signer of the Commonwealth Compact which promotes the employment and Board assignments of people of color and women in the Commonwealth. 9) Please pose a question for next week’s Nonprofit Spotlight. How do you foster collaboration and pool the best resources in your community to get things done?
Make sure you check out this video from their Community Baby Shower!
Make sure you check out United Way of Mass Bay and Merrimack Valley's GivingSomeThing Needs List and donate products that can be put to use immediately!
Check out our past Nonprofit Spotlights featuring other organizations doing great work near you!