A conversation with Julie Chacona, United Way Director of Major Gifts
Q: What is your background?
A: I was born and raised in Erie and graduated from Boston College with a degree in journalism and double minor in fine arts/painting and economics. My mother, Kay Caryl Kuhn and father Dr. Richard Kuhn were both fierce advocates of the importance of education and being inquisitive, life-long learners. They instilled in me and my brother David “Bowie” Kuhn and my sister Jennifer Knox that education would always open our world to endless opportunities. I know this was especially significant to my father because he was a child of immigrant parents and he began his early years in school as a student where English was his second language. He eventually earned his medical degree and was a local family physician. My mother was a teacher at Harding and continued to teach and volunteer on and off as I grew up.
Q: What did you learn from your previous work that you are able to apply to your work at United Way?
A: My first career as a writer, public relations specialist and later team leader of the Foundation and Volunteer Program at Saint Vincent Health Center taught me how to fully embrace the mission of the hospital as inspired by the Sisters of Saint Joseph, their charism and the integration of the mission into every decision that was made on all levels of patient care and customer satisfaction. I was on the team that rewrote the mission and learned when you articulate the changes being made through the lens of the mission—to everyone from your facility workers, housekeepers, nurses, managers, physicians, the board of corporators, trustees and volunteers—the integration is purposeful and inspiring. Working in the health care field for 19 years taught me about the importance of developing relationships with community ambassadors and also how to lead with my heart.
The best part of my job as Director of Development at Edinboro University was seeing, first-hand, the direct impact that philanthropy had on students. I worked tirelessly with faculty, deans, staff and alumni to create transformational education opportunities for students, many who were first generation, Pell-grant recipients, non-traditional, single parents and high risk for successfully completing a four-year degree due to trauma, food insecurities, financial hardship and other socio-economic factors. To witness the impact $250 - $1,000 can have on changing the trajectory of a student’s college experience is what inspires and brings joy to the donors who invest in these young people. It’s stunning to have been a part of this kind of relationship building that lifts lives.
Q: How do you feel about United Way’s mission to crush poverty?
A: Education changes behaviors and is the pathway to and through a rich and meaningful life. CRUSHING POVERTY starts with not only providing access to the necessary basic needs of food, shelter and clothing but also with early educational skills, specifically reading. The Imagination Library and Raising Readers are examples of United Way programs that boldly address early reading-ready aptitude. The Community Schools in partnership with local businesses, universities, school districts and social service agencies bring resources directly to the students to prevent specific barriers holding them back from breaking out of the cycle of poverty.
The work of the Community School Directors along with United Way Community Impact and Resource Development Teams, the Board of Directors and the investment of the Lead Partners and Corporate Partners is one of the most important initiatives, I believe, that will impact Erie County in terms of lifting our most vulnerable families.
I believe strongly in the message of Thurgood Marshall, “None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody - a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns - bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”
I look forward to working with all of you, our CRUSH POVERTY ambassadors and advocates, to continue to develop and nurture the relationships that will lead to a vibrant Erie community.