2012-03-08 / 15 Minutes

Charlotte County native working to make United Way cash register ring

Florida Weekly Correspondent

Hussey Hussey When Carrie Blackwell Hussey was little, she wanted to be a grocery store cashier. There was just something about the way the register would beep when items were swiped and rung up. In an odd way, she got her wish — only she's not ringing up groceries. She’s currently ringing up funds — with a $900,000 goal in her sights — as director of the United Way of Charlotte County.

It’s a position to which she was promoted in February after having successfully helmed the agency as interim director since October. She joined the United Way in 2009.

“I’m delighted because it feels like a good fit for me,” Ms. Hussey said. “I see so clearly what this organization brings to the community, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

She made her debut as director of the United Way’s Volunteer Center, an initiative that partners community members who want to volunteer with agencies that are looking for help.

“It was a stepping stone for me,” she said. “The life blood of any nonprofit organization is its volunteers. For me, that was just such a wonderful introduction.”

A degree in business management lurking in her background became a “skeleton key” that has unlocked opportunity in the county’s premier service organization.

“I enjoy business and management and leadership studies,” she said, “and I knew I’d have to have business sense no matter what field I was going to get into.”

Coming from a family of educators, Ms. Hussey was raised to understand that whatever job or career she chose, it had to “give back.” She added that studies show a direct relationship between volunteerism and a person’s happiness, health and job satisfaction. As a result, she has been a volunteer herself for most of her life.

“It’s our responsibility,” she said. “And volunteers are much more valuable than paid staff in so many ways — because they’re motivated by a passion to do it.”

Ms. Hussey has been able to share that passion with her two young children, ages 5 and 10.

“What’s so great is they both know what I do,” she said. “When my son sees someone homeless, he wants to help. For me, that’s such a rewarding thing to be able to speak to my children intelligently about, and help them to volunteer and to have that sense of responsibility and compassion — and also pride in the place where you live.”

For Ms. Hussey, that place has always been Charlotte County.

“When I was a teenager, I had classmates who could not wait to get out of here,” she said. “I never felt that way; I never considered moving anywhere. This is my home. It always has been. I’m proud to be from here. I adore it.

“The idea of working for the organization that helps people here who live here, that serves these folks — well, at a certain point, it just became a nobrainer.”

Now she uses that acumen to not only raise funds for the United Way, but to narrow the organization’s focus. On her plate is trying to meet the fundraising goal of $900,000 for a campaign that kicked off in the fall of 2011.

“I go around and ask people for money,” she said. “Most of it comes from payroll deductions. When the campaign ends in the spring, I’ll have a big kitty and loads of pledges and promises — and, hopefully, more than $900,000.”

Members of the Charlotte County community, beginning with the donors (“since they’re already invested in the process”) — are invited to participate in the agency’s community impact process to determine where and how the money will be spent.

Whereas the funds were once used to paint a broad canvas of services, Ms. Hussey has narrowed down the United Way’s focus to three key areas: education, resources and health.

“While we will always have safety net issues and programs in place — because there will always be somebody who needs help paying an electric bill or somebody who doesn't have quite enough food, we’re not going to shift away from that — what we want to do is to focus on starting young and heading those needs off before they become safety net issues.”

She emphasized that the United Way funds programs within agencies rather than the agencies themselves, because program results are measurable.

“Everybody knows that we do good,” she said, “but it’s so much more powerful to say, ‘This is how much good we do.’ That’s good for our agencies; that’s good for everyone involved.”

Ultimately, Ms. Hussey sees the United Way as something more than an organization offering assistance.

“I believe we are the stewards of quality of life,” she said. “Together, working in tandem with health and human services and with these agencies, we’re making Charlotte County a better place to live and work and be.” ¦

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