Abby Verdillo Hamilton has worked as the president and CEO of the United Way of Roanoke Valley since January, but she’s no rookie to the organization that she’s served for the last 18 years.
A native of the Philippines, Verdillo Hamilton said she was blessed with professors who exposed their students to community service, and it was during that time that she “was bitten by the nonprofit bug.” She served as an advocacy officer with an organization that worked with farmers’ groups and she interacted with, and provided a voice for people living in rural areas. In 2002 Verdillo Hamilton moved to Roanoke and knowing that she wanted to work in a nonprofit organization, began her career with the United Way that year.
The United Way of Roanoke Valley connects families to resources that will help break them out of poverty, and a goal of the organization is to elevate 10,000 families to self-sufficiency by 2030.
“For the last 96 years, the United Way has been in this community,” Verdillo Hamilton said. “Our role has always been about elevating the lives of people. We improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of people. We do that by encouraging people to give, advocate and volunteer.”
The United Way of Roanoke Valley recognizes that people in need of one type of assistance, such as housing or help with a utility bill, may need other services, such as after-school care or employment. About 42 percent of the people in the Roanoke Valley are not earning enough money to meet their basic needs, Verdillo Hamilton said.
“You can imagine people making choices on a daily basis: paying rent or paying for childcare. Eating or paying for a car repair,” she said.
“We know that needs are interrelated,” Verdillo Hamilton added. “People who are struggling may need more than one agency. When you’re in a situation of crisis, you may not have the time to figure that out.”
The United Way of Roanoke Valley is among those attempting to address, on a local level, a crisis with a global impact.
Before Gov. Ralph Northam issued a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the United Way of Roanoke Valley reached out to school and community leaders, utility companies and others to assess the needs of the UW’s partners and their clients.
The organization initiated a coordinated community response around COVID-19. On March 16, the United Way of Roanoke Valley began circulating a document to nonprofit leaders to assess how their operations have been modified and what was needed from their clients and staff.
The collected information has a three-fold purpose: to provide up-to-date information from the UW’s partners to the state’s 211 system and other local referral networks. The data also allows the United Way to connect organizations and agencies with similar needs to available resources. The collected information is shared with local and state leaders.
Through these efforts, certain priorities have been identified, such as the need for food, childcare and PPE (personal protective equipment).
The United Way is trying to centralize the ordering of supplies for partners in need of PPE, and the organization is working with social services agencies and childcare providers to provide a single point of entry for those requiring childcare.
The United Way has launched the COVID-19 Community Response Fund with 100 percent of proceeds to be directed to partners that are serving the needs of families that are affected. Corporate sponsors of the COVID-19 Community Response Fund include the AEP Foundation, Community Foundation Serving Western Virginia, Truist and the Western Virginia Water Authority.
People interested in contributing to the COVID-19 Community Response Fund can do so through the United Way of Roanoke Valley’s website at www.uwrv.org or texting “uwrv” to 85511.
People in need of assistance should contact 211 and speak to a specialist who has information about resources in the community. There also are links to credible sources of information about COVID-19 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Virginia Department of Health and the World Health Organization on the United Way of Roanoke Valley’s website.
Verdillo Hamilton said her continued service to the United Way stems from her recognition that she, too, is a member of the community and her desire that the families that live in the Roanoke Valley succeed.
“I think that’s always been what’s important to me,” Verdillo Hamilton said. “I consider my service at the United Way my own personal vocation, and it’s an extension of my own personal values and belief and faith systems.”
Speaking about the future, “I think my commitment as the leader of the United Way will continue to be strengthening relationships … that it will take all of us working together for our families,” Verdillo Hamilton said.
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