QA — Nora LeBlanc, executive director of United Way of Grays Harbor

Nora LeBlanc, executive director of United Way of Grays Harbor , is relatively new to the job, taking the position in June of 2013. However, she’s no stranger to nonprofit work, working as executive director of the American Red Cross and regional director of the Girl Scouts of America in Iowa. LeBlanc is originally from Pennsylvania and met her husband, Aberdeen Police Chief Bob Torgerson, while attending college in the Midwest. The couple moved to Grays Harbor in 2004, and LeBlanc said she’s still enchanted by the the Harbor’s beauty. LeBlanc and her husband have three adult children: Ben, Ingrid and Rose.

This time of year, LeBlanc and the United Way of Grays Harbor cohorts are especially busy preparing for the Jan. 25 United Way Gala, the organization’s biggest fundraising event.

You took over as executive director of United Way of Grays Harbor in June of 2013. How have things been going since you started? What challenges have you run into?

I have a job where I have the opportunity to see first-hand the generous spirit of the Harbor. Every day, I talk to people who care deeply about their community and are looking for ways to make a strong future for everyone. From businesses and individuals, I hear and witness the giving that people do.

Many of you never hear about a person who collects coats throughout the year, a child who shares a pair of shoes with a classmate, a school that sends home food with kids for the weekend. There are groups that collect canned goods, crochet blankets and collect money at their workplace. There are many people doing things with little fanfare — they do it because they saw a need, they had an idea and they had to do something. United Way of Grays Harbor comes from that spirit, and I see my job as supporting that generosity in any way I can, to help connect volunteers and resources. The greatest challenge is time. I wish there were more hours in the day! There are so many people I want to meet and hear about what’s important to them and find ways to work together.

Tell us a little bit about the United Way Gala on Jan 25. What can guests expect?

This is the Gala’s 15th year. Rich Hartman’s Five Star Dealerships started it as a celebration. Soon after that first year, Bill Wolfenbarger with Jodesha Broadcasting joined as a co-sponsor and we’ve been celebrating ever since. And let’s not forget host sponsor Quinault Beach Resort & Casino — they have been so generous in their support of United Way. Chef Dan Pohrebny always outdoes himself with a delectable meal.

This is the largest fundraiser we hold each year. It seems that each one is a little more over the top than the last. There will be a silent and live auction and an inspirational speaker — Coach LeDuc, former strength and conditioning coach for the St Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks. Coach LeDuc has given his time to inspire and support youth. We’re looking forward to hearing from him at the Gala.

The United Way Gala is a night to get dressed up, have fun and know you’re making a difference for real people.

How many people typically attend the Gala? Do you expect that many people this year?

The United Way Gala has averaged about 300 people. We are expecting at least 300 this year. It is an event that everyone looks forward to. People call our office to talk about the Gala and I start to talk about the event, and they interrupt me quickly, saying, “I know, I have been coming since the first one; I think I’ve only missed two in the past 15 years.”

How much do you hope to raise through the Gala? What will the proceeds go to?

In 15 years, the United Way Gala has raised over $700,000. We know we will take it well past the three-quarter million mark this year. All the proceeds go directly to benefit local people in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties. United Way of Grays Harbor supports a network of 22 programs that make sure children can succeed, seniors can maintain independence and families can be safe and thrive.

What does it take to plan an event like this?

The planning starts almost as soon as the last one is over. United Way Gala is the result of the hard work of many people. United Way has a dedicated board who believes strongly in United Way — to mobilize people and resources to make a stronger community. It is a large group of board members, community volunteers and sponsors who make it happen. That doesn’t include all the people who support the Gala: the businesses and individuals who donate generously for the auction, sponsor tables and of course the people who come.

How do people buy tickets for the event?

The United Way Gala is on Jan. 25 at Quinault Beach Resort and Casino at 6 p.m. People can call our office at 360-532-6260 to reserve their seats. Tickets are $75 each. Table sponsorships start at $1000.

It must be difficult to decide who will receive funding from United Way of Grays Harbor. How do you decide which groups get money?

United Way has a unique process for deciding how resources will be used. Just as the money is raised locally and used for local people, decisions are made locally as well. Every January a group of community volunteers is brought together that includes a broad cross-section of people who decide how money will be distributed.

This group breaks into teams that visit board meetings, program sites and spend time talking to staff and volunteers. They review applications to assure that programs are delivering the services and results they promise. The group works until May each year and makes a recommendation to the board of United Way of Grays Harbor. This year we have a group of 20 people on this committee. People who have served on this committee in the past, whether they were new to the community or had lived here all their life have said how meaningful it has been to participate and how much they learn.

Yes, the deliberations can be difficult and even painful. Ultimately this group decides on how we best can work together to meet community needs.


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