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United Way of Southern Kentucky

Story by Emily Robertson

Debbie Hills, President and CEO of United Way

Debbie Hills, President and CEO of United Way

United Way of Southern Kentucky is a non-profit organization that has worked each day, since its incorporation in 1956, to help the residents of the region learn, grow and aspire to live their very best lives. UWSK focuses on providing the building blocks for a good quality of life: education, income, health and safety net. The ultimate goal of United Way of Southern Kentucky is to create a community where all residents are educated, healthy and financially-stable.

In order to accomplish their work locally, United Way partners with more than 175 regional companies in workplace campaigns, where employees can donate directly to UWSK. In the 2015-2016 campaign, 7,519 donors donated $2,024,458.

UWSK President and CEO Debbie Hills has been with the organization, in various roles, for 17 years and truly believes in the work the organization does every day.

“I am honored to serve as President and CEO of United Way of Southern Kentucky,” Hills says. “I am confident of the strong foundation of community research which our new community impact platform is derived from. Collaborative efforts in the coming years for the community impact platform will truly transform our community for generations to come. Our vision is clear, and I have the great fortune to have a dynamic, committed board of directors and an incredibly talented staff to help lead this critical transition with me.”

Tell us about your volunteers.

Our volunteers are the backbone of our organization. From the leadership of our Board of Directors to those who sweat it out at a Day of Caring project, we are truly honored to work with such a group of caring individuals. United Way of Southern Kentucky is a completely volunteer-directed organization.

Who would make a great volunteer for United Way of Southern Kentucky?

We need the heads, hands and hearts of committed people like you to help us tackle the problems facing our communities. Each person has special talents and things they can do to help. Put your talents to work for your community. Give an hour. Give a Saturday. Give your best, because when we reach out a hand to one, we influence the condition of all. Whether it’s reading to children, or leading financial literacy classes for hard-working families, or delivering meals to homebound seniors, there are hundreds of volunteer options available every day that will help impact the education, income, health, and safety net of our community.

What are your main events each year?

Our main events we have each year are: LIVE UNITED Awards and Annual Meeting, which takes place at the beginning of each year; Feed the Need Regional Food Drive in February and March; Handbags for Hope Purse Auction each June; Day of Caring every July; and LIVE UNITED White Out (WKU Football Game) sponsored by U.S. Bank each September.

Tell us a little about the President and CEO Debbie Hills.

Debbie Hills has been President and CEO of United Way of Southern Kentucky since July 1, 2016. Hills has been an employee of United Way of Southern Kentucky for 17 years serving in previous roles as Director of Community Impact, Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, and most recently as Interim President. In her 17 years with United Way, Hills has led campaign work in multiple counties, facilitated the annual allocations process, directed needs assessments and managed agency-funding relationships. Recently, Hills has led United Way’s transformation to a community impact platform that addresses issues in Education, Income, Health, and Safety Net including the research development and execution, and the allocations process redesign. In addition, Hills has been the leader in the creation of the Southern Kentucky 2-1-1 Contact Center.

As CEO, Hills oversaw all functional areas including finance and administration, resource development, marketing, and community impact. Hills also serves on the Board of Directors for the Community Foundation of South Central Kentucky, and has previously served as board chairman for the local Emergency Food and Shelter Board of Directors.

Before joining United Way of Southern Kentucky, Hills spent 17 years with Fruit of the Loom; she served for 10 years in senior management, including Vice President of Marketing for both the men’s underwear division and the children’s products division. Hills is a graduate of the University of Kentucky with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration.

Do you have any statistics that you would like to share?

United Way of Southern Kentucky collected a record-breaking more than 109,000 items in a region-wide food drive called “Feed the Need” across Allen, Barren, Butler, Hart, Logan, Simpson, and Warren counties in March of 2017. This represents at least an 11,000 item increase in donations from what was collected last year, and the most that the drive has collected in any one year since it began.

In its first year, Feed the Need collected 43,000 items. As part of the 2017 drive, approximately 400 volunteers and over 80 companies were represented in the seven participating counties. Since its inception in 2009, “Feed the Need” has now collected more than half a million items for local food pantries that have been distributed to individuals and families in need in Southern Kentucky.

In 2016, more than 1,000 volunteers completed more than 75 projects as part of the annual Day of Caring. The 2017 Day of Caring is scheduled for July 26th.

Anything else you’d like us to know about United Way of Southern Kentucky?
No other single organization has the scope, expertise and influence to bring together hundreds of businesses, human services agencies, government, private foundations and dedicated volunteers around a common vision of creative positive change to achieve long-lasting results.
In 2012, United Way of Southern Kentucky began the development of a Community Impact Plan and new approach to United Way business. Designed to create long-term community change, this plan will be a road map for United Way and our partners on how to build a better community that provides opportunity for all. It will guide us in connecting strengths and assets of our communities with opportunities to improve in measurable ways.

Over the course of 14 months, we listened to hundreds of people from across the ten-county area about their aspirations for a better community through a series of Community Conversations. We also heard from thousands of community members about the issues most important to them through a survey process. People of all ages, ethnicities and income levels shared their thoughts and aspirations. Clear themes were defined, crossing all segments of the population around issues in Education, Income, Health, and Safety Net. Based upon the results of this in-depth community-driven research, United Way of Southern Kentucky has developed Community Impact strategies focused in these four categories.

To execute these strategies, UWSK adopted a Community Impact funding model for 2016 and beyond. United Way will be working with community representatives to evaluate proposals and provide funding for these priorities.

In order to truly move the needle in the area of Education: Kindergarten Readiness, and meet the goal to increase the number of kids ready for kindergarten on day one from 50% to 75% by the year 2020, United Way has launched a Kindergarten Readiness awareness campaign to help educate parents about how to better prepare their children for day one of kindergarten.
As part of this effort, United Way is encouraging parents to READ, PLAY, COUNT, and LOG OFF with their children. Parents can log onto to find information to determine if their child is kindergarten ready and if not, how they can adapt everyday activities to increase the level of their child’s readiness.