Although Chris Wells is new to our community, she is certainly not new to United Way or the important work they do. In fact, before she leapt at the chance to travel cross country for her new position as Executive Director for United Way of Thurston County (UWTC), she was Director of Development at United Way of North Central Florida for the past four years.
Working hard to help others has been a lifelong passion for Wells. It’s something instilled in her by her mother who was a journalist and passionate about making a difference. It was her mother who taught Wells how one voice could make a difference. And Wells decided to take her voice to radio.
As a local morning radio show host for a ten years and Executive Director of the 8th Judicial Circuit Bar Association for nearly seven years, Wells gave back whenever she could. “Over the years I served on multiple non-profit boards as well as emceeing many community and charity events and did quite a lot of fundraising for a number of local charities,” she says. “I could bring people together to address children’s health issues, domestic violence, food insecurity, animal welfare, cutting edge research – you name it. I realized that was a gift, a unique ability.”
Wells decided she could have an even greater impact if she committed to a non-profit full time. She joined United Way of North Central Florida. After 20 years in Gainsville, Florida, Wells was excited for the chance to come to the Pacfic Northwest. She is looking forward to exploring everything the area has to offer with her partner Steve and two dogs, Clementine and Butters. And, believe it or not, she is excited about our weather. “In Florida right now, it’s still almost 90 degrees and 100 percent humidity,” she exclaims.
She is also excited about her new coworkers and the future of UWTC. “If you don’t know the staff and volunteers who support your United Way here, then you need to meet them,” Wells says. “They are deeply committed to this community and bring all of their talent, energy and effort to work every day to make it better. I was so excited to join United Way of Thurston County at a time when we have an opportunity to do some really bold and innovative things that will position us to serve the community for many more years to come.”
United Way of Thurston County has been around for more than 80 years. Wells knows the work they do in communities is vitally important. UWTC focuses on the foundational issues that create thriving children, individuals, families and economies. But Wells says communicating this to the public can be a challenge. “One area where a lot of United Ways struggle is in telling our story – who we are, what we do and how we do it. Our work is very dense and can be complicated to explain,” she says. Her background in media gives Wells the know-how to explain the often rather complicated work they do.
In fact, she says most people do not know where their money goes when they give to United Way. She explains:
“What a lot of people don’t know about United Way is that we are local. The money we raise here, stays here, serving the people we live and work with every day. In the last 81 years, UWTC has invested millions of dollars in local programs that feed hungry children, improve literacy and early education, help isolated seniors, advance the health of our community, support families in crisis and better the lives of every person who lives and works in Thurston County.”
Businesses that give regularly, like Olympia Federal Savings, are a big part of making UWTC’s work possible.
“We’ve proudly supported our local United Way for several decades because the organization plays such a vital role in our community by addressing some of the most pressing challenges in our region like early learning opportunities and support services for low-income and homeless youth,” said Ryan Betz, Oly Fed marketing and public relations manager. “Each year we run an employee giving campaign, volunteer for the Day of Caring and provide a corporate gift to support the organizations events and operations.”
Wells is bringing with her the knowledge she gained at the United Way in Florida. “Working at United Way of North Central Florida certainly gave me a lot of organizational knowledge and experience that’s very particular to United Way. There, I was able to create a new fundraising model that resulted in significant growth after years of declining revenues,” she says.
And she has big plans for Thurston County.
“I have a lot of big goals,” Wells says. “This is a time for us to be visionary. To think big and do things that will really make United Way of Thurston County stand out as an example of the good that happens when communities work together on strategies to meet the needs of their citizens and create long-term solutions.”
Like her mother was for her, Wells hopes she is inspiring the next generation, including her own children. “I wanted to be a model for my children. For what a lone, vocal, passionate, committed person could do. I wanted them to see that anyone can make a difference – that they could make a difference. I truly, deeply believe that. Every person has the ability to bring about change. I want to create opportunities for people to unite and be a powerful force for good in their communities. More than anything, I hope that’s my legacy.”