United Way of Oxford County evolving, proactive and locally focused

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By A.M. Sheehan

OXFORD HILLS — At 28, Kim Preble of Auburn must be one of the youngest executive directors of a United Way.

Kim Preble, executive director, United Way of Oxford County
Kim Preble, executive director, United Way of Oxford County

This, however, is an advantage not a detriment. Overflowing with enthusiasm yet grounded to realistic expectations, she is determined to help the United Way of Oxford County evolve and become more relevant to people and business in today’s climate.

To do this, she is slowly shedding some of the traditional methods of the past.

She graduated from the University of Maine-Orono with a Bachelor of Science, double major in marketing and management and triple minor in French, Spanish and political science, which goes a long way in demonstrating she is not deterred by hard work and keeping many balls in the air.

After college, she moved to Arizona in the middle of a record-breaking period of more than 110-degree temperature. A friend of the family owned a small business outside of Phoenix and she worked there for a year getting her feet wet in her chosen field.

However, it proved to be too far from home, offered little in the way of cold winters and, although beautiful, she says, simply not for her. So back she came to Maine, landing a position with Safe Voices as its fundraising and volunteer coordinator where she worked for two years.

“I never thought I would like fundraising,” she laughs. But she does and since career advancement was limited at a smaller organization such as Safe Voices, she applied for and got the executive director’s position with United Way.

She is its only employee. In fact, she says, the UWOC is the smallest in the state.

When its former executive director of 22 years, Dennis Gray, retired, the United Way of Oxford County board decided that it would turn to what had always been a part-time job into a full-time job in order to increase its impact in the county. And then it hired Preble.

“This means I have a lot more time to get out into the communities and focus strategically on what we want to do as an organization,” she explains.

She says there are three main areas of focus:

  • education
  • meeting basic needs
  • improving health

“I go to a lot of meetings,” she says, “and form partnerships, meet with partner agencies and schools and with anyone who will meet with me.”

“Health is a big issue for all,” she says, “and we have become focused on health because of this.”

She cites Oxford being the least healthy county in the state in 2011 and the slow climb it is making up the ladder of health.`

“We have partnered with the Wellness Collaborative and the community safety group and,” she says, “we hope to focus on ACES and resiliency.”

“When I started,” she explains, “the [United Way] Campaign was struggling, still feeling the effects of the recession.

“I have to increase campaign accounts and recoup lost funding.”

Current partners

Preble notes that Oxford Casino is the largest contributor to the local United Way through its employee campaigns and golf tournament. She has brought in new funding sources with Mingle Analytics and Rumford Power and has also started a new small business circle with a donation for qualifying small businesses of $365 a year or $1 a day.

“We will share their Facebook page with ours and put a link to their website on our website,” she explains.”We also include them in our newsletter. This enables us to support small business and them to be able to be part of us.”

United Way helped the education element of Aspire Higher at Oxford Hills Middle School – the student race car.

“They [the students] had to apply for our help and give a presentation before the Community Investment Committee. They were outstanding! They gave a more professional presentation than most professionals!”

United Way also helps fund Meals on Wheels, 2-1-1 statewide resource directory, FamilyWize prescription savings card, the Progress Center Community Kitchen, Rumford Group Homes, Community Rides, Oxford County 4-H (scholarships for Bryant Pond summer program), Community Dental and the Walking School Bus, among others.

Preble brought the Triple Crown Series to the county as a fundraiser. She laughs as she tells how that came to be.

“I was asked for ideas when they interviewed me for the job,” she says, “and that was one. Then they hired me and I thought, ‘Oh my, now I have to do it!'”

The Triple Crown is a Rock, Paper, Scissors series of three races.

There is the snowshoe race at Roberts Farm in February called the Cupid Dash; the cross-country ski race at Carter Ski Center in Bethel in March called Shamrock Shuffle; and the 5K run/walk in Fryeburg in April called the Spring Fling.

The entry fees and sponsorships pay for the races and help fund United Way supported programs and the physically active fundraisers also promote health.

The Rock, Paper, Scissors part represents what is unique about the county.

Rock – Mt. Abrams, Sunday River, Carter’s Cross Country Ski Center and various land trusts.

Paper –  Rumford Paper Mill and the history of the paper industry.

Scissors – New Balance and the county’s manufacturing history.

Future plans

One thing she is looking at, she says of the future, is transferring the AmeriCorp/Vista position from Healthy Oxford Hills to the United Way. The position focuses on food security and hunger relief and has, in the past, worked on the summer meals program which we sponsored last summer. “We are also focusing on increasing the number of businesses in our camp so that we will have more money to invest in the community.”

“I would like to see two or three new accounts each year for the next few years,” Preble explains, adding that she is looking at some of the larger businesses in the county.

“We want to start seeing more involvement with recipients of our funding instead of just saying, ‘Here’s the funding, good luck,'” she adds.

United Way might be able to offer training in how to help teens experiencing trauma thereby supporting that effort both financially and through the training.

She says she is very project oriented and cites the United Way Diaper Drive this summer as an example. “We collected more than 4,000 diapers.” She says they may expand the drive to twice a year.

And then there’s the food pantry project where United Way coordinates food drives with local businesses and donate what is collected to local food pantries.

“I also hope to bring back the Day of Caring within the next two years,” she says.

Rest of her day

In addition to the numerous meetings, committees and fundraisers she attends/plans/executes, Preble is also responsible for all the accounting, newsletters and other minutia.

She says she hopes to move to the area in the future.

In her spare time, she says, “I’m a typical Mainer – I love kayaking, cross country skiing and the fall.”

She also crochets, has a cat and loves sports, especially the Patriots and Red Sox.

She coaches the Everett Little swim team and Poland High School JV softball. She is a member of the Oxford Hills Rotary.

For her, coaching is a form of relaxation and her board supports these activities outside of the office.

“I am very fortunate to have a board that understands I am one person and it wants me to make sure I don’t burn out.”

asheehan@sunmediagroup.net