The United Way held its annual Corporate & Community Leaders Breakfast Thursday at Milliken’s customer center.

By Samantha Swann

Local business leaders and organizational representatives gathered for coffee and conversation as well as a number of presentations on their peer efforts to help the community through strategic business practices and partnerships with the United Way.

“We’ve been doing this for well over a decade now, and this is a way for us to bring the leaders of the community and the leaders from our corporate partners together and to hear what they’ve been helping make happen over the past year and to give them a charge and a call to action for this coming year,” said Paige Stephenson, president and CEO of United Way of the Piedmont.
The theme of this year’s gathering was the United Way’s Financial Stability Bold Goals and their foreseen impact on the community.

The Bold Goals include reducing the number of people living below self-sufficiency in Spartanburg, Cherokee and Union counties by 10 percent in 10 years by reducing the number of cost-burdened households by 10 percent and the number of unemployed families living in poverty by 75 percent. These goals were chosen based on a data analysis conducted over the past year by the United Way’s community leaders and partners, said Stephenson.

“We just want to educate the community about what the goal is because we don’t think of this as a United Way goal, we think of it as a community goal,” Hannah Jarrett, director of financial stability strategy at the United Way of the Piedmont, said. “We can’t, as an organization, address these issues that we’ve identified by ourselves; it’s going to take a community-wide collective impact approach in order to make any significant, sustainable difference.”

Jarrett said the Bold Goals were announced this summer and have already rolled out one initiative to achieve them, an outreach program by four community case workers. Jarrett said that next steps will include developing a transportation program and housing trust funds and transitional housing options.

Stephenson introduced the United Way’s Workplace Community Resource Coordinator Program, where a business receives a case worker to help employees who, while employed, are struggling in ways that aren’t always visible to those around them.

“With the investment of businesses in this community, we are able to place people closer to where they are on a daily basis, in that workplace, so that they have that person who can be that intensive case manager that’s convenient for them,” Stephenson said.

Speakers at the event included Ben Hines of Spencer/Hines Properties, Kathleen Brady, vice-chancellor for external relations and partnerships at University of South Carolina Upstate, Steve Dunn, vice president of franchise development at Denny’s, and Stephenson.

The morning’s keynote speaker was Halsey Cook, president and CEO of Milliken & Company, who told attendees about the company’s efforts to connect with and uplift the community, including their goal of collectively giving 100,000 hours of volunteer time by 2025. Cook said that employees are given paid time off to volunteer and serve on local committees, boards and commissions.

“When we work to help the community, we know that the community will in turn work to help us and give great places for our people to live and schools for them to raise their children,” Cook said. “So for Milliken, and for all of you, this virtuous circle of community, people, talent, and companies, really is at the core of the success of anything we do here.”

Stephenson said Cook’s presentation would hopefully give the business and community leaders and legislative representatives present ideas of things they can do to help the community within their own organizations.

“Milliken has really drawn alongside us, especially under (Cook’s) tenure. They have reached out and connected with us with their employee engagement, which has really helped take their giving to a new overall level,” Stephenson said.