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UW interim director wants to help others

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By Chris Sardelli

Christopher Sardelli

csardelli@thelancasternews.com

Carolyn Petroski is thrilled to be serving the people of Lancaster.

Born and raised in Lancaster County, and after several years of helping other nonprofit organizations, Petroski became the interim director of the United Way of Lancaster on Jan. 16. She expects to be in the position between six and 12 months, and said there’s a possibility of becoming the permanent director.

She looks forward to helping residents.

“I have a passion for helping people,” Petroski said. “Building relationships is very important for me and working in some capacity of helping people has been very important for me.”

Petroski first learned of the organization’s need for an interim director after being introduced to a few United Way members. At the time, she was finishing up a term as interim director for another nonprofit in Charlotte, the Parkinson’s Association of the Carolinas. She first worked as the organization’s program coordinator for York, Lancaster and Chester counties for eight months, before serving as the group’s interim director for four months.

Her commute for that job took more than an hour each way and Petroski was looking for something closer to home.

“I absolutely loved my work with those people,” she said. “I have a personal connection because my mom died of this disease over two years ago. I have a great love for people with this disease.”

Petroski spent most of her life in the county, except for her time at Winthrop University in Rock Hill. There she majored in education and later worked for years as a public school teacher. After her daughter, Shannon, was born, she became a stay-at-home mother. Eventually she decided to home school her daughter, and later her two sons.

Realizing the need for an accountability organization through which home schoolers could legally work in the state, and could be a liaison between home schoolers and local and state organizations, Petroski founded the Palmetto Homeschool Association in 1996. She worked with the organization for several years, and later her husband, Jeff, served as president for several years. Today the group is still active and serves about 700 families across the state.

“That’s where my experience with nonprofits began,” she said. “It’s very rewarding to see that something you started is still thriving and still helping people. It’s a great reward for me.”

New direction              for United Way

Petroski is excited to be heading the United Way of Lancaster at a time when it is instituting a new business model. She said the United Way will be implementing its Community Impact model, which states that, in addition to funding other organizations, the group will also facilitate collaborations within the community to meet specific needs. One of her jobs will be to create a plan for restructuring the group so they can implement the new model. She said this process could take between four and eight months.

“Under the old model we were mainly a conduit for giving money to partner agencies,” she said. “We’ll still do that, but we’ll be adding reaching out to the community.”

Another one of her goals as interim director, she said, is to distance the organization from the United Way of Central Carolinas. That chapter came under fire last year when it was discovered that its board approved a $2.1 million pension package for its then-CEO Gloria Pace King, allegedly with King’s assistance. The chapter commissioned a report on the issue, and fired King soon after in September. Due to the controversy, that chapter has struggled in raising money for its campaign. Petroski said the incident has tainted how Lancaster residents view the county’s chapter.

“We really need people in Lancaster County to understand we’re working for them,” she said. “Some people have stopped contributing because of that (incident).”

She said 98 percent of the money the Lancaster County chapter raises stays in the county. Right now the county’s chapter has raised only $350,000 toward its $425,000 goal. If the organization doesn’t make up the difference by June, she said it will have to make “some tough decisions about which partners we might have to cut funds from.”

“This comes at a time when people in Lancaster County need help more,” she said. “I can tell you the people we partner with need funds more this year than they ever have.”

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli  at 416-8416