Advocate, Volunteer, Live United
Story by Cindy Reid
Meet Elizabeth Waters, the Area Director of the Effingham County Service Center, United Way of the Coastal Empire. Originally hired as the Assistant Director of the Effingham County office, she was promoted to Area Director in 2019.
Although new to the nonprofit world—she came from a financial business career—as Assistant Director, Elizabeth helped lead a record breaking annual campaign, raising more than $400,000. Since assuming the role of Area Director, she has successfully collaborated with community partners and has led the service center efforts to serve more than 2,000 local residents annually.
The recent Covid19 crisis impacted the people of the United Way service area in numerous ways.
“So many people struggle on a daily basis to keep their head above water,” she says. “A huge population is only one emergency away from meeting their life needs. Although we knew this, the Covid crisis heightened our awareness of this issue and the necessity to address the issues needed to affect change.”
On a positive note, she reports “The people of Effingham were extremely generous in contributing to United Way of the Coastal Empire’s Covid Rapid Response Fund we established last year. Even in a time of uncertainty and crisis our community is always willing to join forces and work together.”
Born and raised in Georgia, Elizabeth has lived in Effingham county for more than 30 years.
“We moved here when I was a child because of the small community atmosphere, and today it still has that warmth and community feel it had back then. Effingham County has kept that ambience. I went away to attend University of Georgia, and after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, I was eager to come back home. Effingham county is my home.”
Before to her positions at the United Way, Elizabeth spent more than a decade in the financial industry serving as a financial advisor with Thrivent and as branch manager with Renasant Bank.
“Even though the financial industry was not my intended career choice initially, it certainly had great value. Not only from staying with the same bank through two mergers, but more importantly the relationships that were built through the years. From customers who became family to community partners who became friends. There isn’t a monetary value that can be placed on that investment.”
From Finance to United Way
Elizabeth says the move from a career in finance to a leadership position at the United Way was “a God move, there is really no other explanation. Ultimately what appealed to me was the opportunity to make a more lasting impact in people’s lives and our communities.”
She says she has learned much about the positive aspects in Effingham County and the coastal empire community in her last three years at United Way.
“I was aware of the United Way through their annual campaign of course, but that barely scratched the surface. Now I better understand the overall impact United Way has on our community and how we are able to accomplish what we do, through collaboration and collective impact. I have seen how well we work together—businesses, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and local governments—because working together we are able to accomplish so much more.”
As Area Director Elizabeth oversees the service center’s day to day operations, works with donor partners, community collaboratives, agency nonprofits and partners with funders.
“We work with many local agencies,” she says, “and we collaborate with many more additionally through the United Way of the Coastal Empire.” She never tires of sharing with others the work and impact of United Way of the Coastal Empire and her passion is evident in any conversation on the topic.
Elizabeth says, “In addition to our community work, we are fortunate to offer an opportunity for other nonprofits to serve our Effingham residents by providing them a space to meet in our service center. This opportunity is very valuable as it helps bridge the transportation gap for clients. Being here in this building enables the clients, and agencies, to get and share resources—a function we are happy to provide.”
“The pressing need right now is rental and mortgage assistance. This has traditionally been an area of concern, but currently the need is greatly magnified due to the Covid crisis. The second most pressing need is sustainable workforce housing within the community and addressing housing diversity in general.”
United Way is focusing on these areas in a collective nature by partnering with others to serve, research and advocate for those in need. One such collaboration is a newly formed group, Housing and Opportunities for People in Effingham (HOPE), that works toward preventing homelessness and advocating for sustainable housing in Effingham County.
New Strategic Plan
After an extensive strategic planning process engaging more than 400 community members representing all of United Way of the Coastal Empire’s constituencies, the organization is committing to building stronger, deeper, and wider community partnerships. Elizabeth says, “We recently drafted and approved a new strategic plan, and we narrowed it down to four bold goals in order to make a more intentional focus on Safety Net and Upward Mobility.”
The focus on Safety Net is not new to United Way as that is why they were founded, by the community for the community, to aid people through all kinds of storms.
With Upward Mobility in mind, this plan recommends a more explicit focus to include goal-setting in four proposed areas:
1. Quality, Affordable Childcare
2. Ready & Resilient Workforce
3. Financially Empowered Families
4. Safe & Stable Housing
Elizabeth says, “We have four bold goals and a strategic plan that will in turn generate action for the next three to five years. Having not only survived but thrived through the adversity of the past year, we are excited to move our focus to being Forward United. The future is bright, and we are blessed to be in a position to support and improve our community.”
This community-focused plan will build partnerships across sectors to bring innovation, quality, and the determined measurable results to some of our region’s toughest problems. United Way will need the wisdom and will of key partners, as well as financial support and volunteer leadership from all caring citizens in the Coastal Empire. Living UNITED, we will strengthen the Coastal Empire region for our children and grandchildren. (from the United Way Strategic Plan)
A Good Fit
In addition to her role at United Way, Elizabeth also serves at many other community organizations. Her volunteer activities include Board member with Effingham County Victims Assistance Program, Board Treasurer with Effingham Back Pack Buddies, Secretary for Rotary Club of Effingham, Events and Planning committee for Effingham County Chamber of Commerce, member of Springfield United Methodist Church and member of Springfield UMC’s Missions Committee. She says her work has “afforded me the opportunity to meet so many people and appreciate and value the diversity we have here in our community.”
“My happy place is being Mom to my two boys, ages twelve and three,” Elizabeth says. “We love going to the beach, going camping and spending time with friends and family. That’s what is most important to me—friends an family.”
For More Information:
The Robert H. Demere, Jr. Effingham County office is host to more than 25 local groups that collectively address the needs of the community.
United Way Service Center at Effingham County
(912) 826-5300 | uwce.org/counties/effinghamcount | 711 Zitterour Dr, Rincon, GA
United Way Of the Coastal Empire
The United Way is united by a vision of the community in which all people have the opportunity to reach their full potential and families thrive.
The mission of United Way of the Coastal Empire is to improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities.
A Few Facts
- By 2004, all four counties of Bryan, Chatham, Effingham, and Liberty became areas serviced by United Way.
- In 2015, our United Way was awarded the highest level four-star rating by Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent evaluator of charitable organizations. Our United Way is among 2 percent of charities receiving this distinction for fiscal responsibility.
- 2018 marked our 80th anniversary.
- In 2020 alone, United Way’s funded programs and services helped an estimated 200,000 people in our four-county area. Imagine an impact like that—touching more than one in three people—year after year, for the past 83 years.