‘Part of something greater’
New United Way of Marion County CEO Bob Haight joins three other hires in addressing families in need in the area’s growing population.
If it weren’t for a mandated volunteer assignment, Bob Haight might have spent the rest of his professional life in banking and corporate finance.
The new CEO at the United Way of Marion County officially began his tenure on March 1, but, in his college years, Haight never imagined he’d lead a worldwide charitable organization in four U.S. states.
When Haight graduated with his bachelor’s degree in business administration, the president of his hometown’s bank asked him to serve them by volunteering at the United Way for a few months before hiring him. After his assignment, he would attend a management training program.
“I never went back to that bank,” Haight said with a laugh, adding that he felt he had found a renewed sense of purpose.
“I loved being able to be part of something greater in the community, and so that’s how my career started,” he said.
Haight’s boyhood seems right out of a 20th-century American movie starring Jimmy Stewart. He grew up in the 1960s in Painesville, Ohio, near the Grand River and Lake Erie. Caring for others emerged as a theme early on during his boyhood, especially when he joined a project organized by his Boy Scouts troop at the United Methodist Church, which focused on emergency food and shelter in the aftermath of several manufacturing plants closing. The shutdowns led to widespread unemployment, financial losses and instability both in the community and within families.
“The experience became foundational as I began my United Way career,” Haight said.
Later, with the Catholic Charities of Portage County, he re-evaluated his life goals after helping conduct research on the runaway youth population and the youth homeless populations as part of his graduate studies field placement.
“Some of the so-called runaways were termed in the literature as throwaway children because of substance abuse, criminal activity, truancy and homelessness,” he said. “The research project was designed to create a community response to serving this vulnerable population.”
Soon after that, Haight earn a master’s degree in social science administration at Case Western Reserve University. He would go on to a 40-year career with United Way, serving as president of the Heart of Illinois United Way, Heart of West Michigan United Way, and United Way of Illinois. His accomplishments include merging three United Ways in Madison County, Illinois and helping institute legislation for a 211 hotline and child welfare reimbursement, also in Illinois.
In 2010, he transferred to the Heart of Florida United Way in Orlando, where he served as senior vice president of resource development until 2019, when he accepted the position of vice president of philanthropy with Quest.
At Quest, Haight served people with developmental disabilities.
“I did that for about two years, and then with COVID-19, I was laid off,” Haight said.
The nonprofit exec was staring down his 60s and wanted to slow down anyway, but he didn’t want to hit the golf course all day, every day.
“I knew some folks here in Marion County,” Haight continued. “Toni James, who was the CEO here for a long time, and I were good friends. We knew the most recent CEO, Scot Quintel, left in August and that he had some staff turnover. So, the United Way of Marion County hired me as a consultant, and the next thing I knew, I was working full time again!” the CEO said with a laugh.
In Marion County, Haight has his sights on continuing the success of Strong Families, ReadingPals, Community Partnership School at College Park Elementary and 211 Information and Referral.
He praises United Way leaders James and Quintel for their foundational work on the programs.
“We know these programs are making a difference in the lives of residents with measurable impact,” Haight said. “I will work to seek community support for these initiatives to grow and thrive.”
Haight said he enjoys his new life in Ocala with wife Sue, a retired elementary school teacher who serves the community as a ReadingPals volunteer for Marion County Schools. The couple has a daughter in Orlando and a son in Columbia, South Carolina, who’s the father of their grandson, a plucky 3-year-old who Haight dotes on every chance he gets (if you go by his Facebook posts).
The lifelong service devotee isn’t one to seek the spotlight. He expresses gratitude to the board of directors and heaps praise on three other recent hires at United Way of Marion County: Niki Tripodi, vice president of resource development; Yeralin Martinez, director of individual donor engagement, and Jordan Riley, director of marketing and public relations.
Tripodi has served on the United Way Annual Giving Cabinet and served Kimberly’s Center for Child Protection as public relations and development director.
Martinez has served on United Way of Marion County’s Health Vision Council, along with several other charitable projects, and Riley is an Ocala native and graduate of North Marion High School and the University of Akron Media Studies, where he garnered acclaim on the football field, in addition to playing for the University of Louisiana-Monroe.
Emphasizing the area’s growing population, Haight said, “The question for our team now is: How do we take our excellent programs to scale so we can serve more families?”
What is the new leader’s advice for people who want to help out, but feel overwhelmed by adult responsibilities?
“I think my advice would be to follow something that you’re passionate about,” he said. “Whether it’s for the environment, the arts, education or mentoring young people, if you’re passionate about a cause, the time allocation takes care of itself,” Haight assured. “And when you follow that passion, it doesn’t feel as exhausting or daunting because you think you feel like you’re making a significant difference.”
For more information about the services and opportunities provided by the United Way of Marion County, visit uwmc.org.
This is the ‘Way’
Here’s a quick primer to some of the community initiatives spearheaded by United Way of Marion County
211, a free information referral helpline
United Way of Marion County helps people looking for affordable housing, quality daycare and utilities assistance and those dealing with a personal crisis, struggling with thoughts of suicide, or seeking help with an aging parent. Dial 2-1-1 to connect with more than 2,000 local health and human service programs.
This is a program focused on helping families develop financial stability through education, skill development and career development. The initiative connects 80 to 90 adults and children to personal success coaches each year. The goal is to provide each family with the guidance needed to graduate successfully.
This statewide early literacy initiative provides volunteer mentors for students from Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK) to third grade who need extra help, utilizing one-on-one or small group settings. Locally, United Way partners with Marion County Public Schools to provide ReadingPals in kindergarten and VPK classrooms. Volunteer mentors donate one hour a week during the year at 18 elementary schools and 22 classrooms across the county.
Community Partnership Schools
College Park Elementary is Marion County’s first school following the Community Partnership Schools model, which aims to form a long-term partnership among four core partners: the school district, a university or college, a community-based nonprofit and a healthcare provider. The goal is to remove barriers to learning and provide built-in support so students can achieve academic success and lifelong prosperity. Local goals include school readiness, student academic success, addressing various pillars of health, and inviting parent and community engagement.