United Way Celebrates 90 Years With a Bang

Jennifer Sampson
Jennifer Sampson

United Way of Metropolitan Dallas has been lending a helping hand in the community for 90 years now, which deserves a round of applause. But the group has been planning a larger celebration than that. On Feb. 6, the organization will host a the Unite Forever Gala featuring Blake Shelton and Usher.

Preston Hollow resident and United Way Dallas CEO and president Jennifer Sampson sat down to answer a few questions about the event.

What can attendees expect at the gala?
We’re having a private dinner and a public concert with Blake Shelton and Usher. They’re good friends and they want to do the show together. The doors open at 5:30 and there’s a VIP reception thanks to Bank of America. Guests will move down on the fieldat AT&T Stadium and walk a red carpet sponsored by Ernst and Young. There’s a short program from our chairs Charlotte Anderson and Troy Aikman. Global CEOs Tom Greco and David Seaton will talk about their involvement and why their companies are involved. There’s also a component called 9 for 90 — nine Dallas Cowboys who have been involved in United Way for the past 40 years. We’ll highlight their role in the celebration. It’s a Texas-sized celebration equal to the size of our future.

What sort of planning went into this?
We’ve been planning for about two and a half years. Recruiting a line up of leadership and corporations takes a lot of time. We’ve never done anything like this. This is the first fundraising event at this level that we’ve been a part of. Our peers would agree the size and scale is larger than anything that’s taken place. We have created a new pipeline for us to connect that continue on beyond the 90th anniversary. Really, it’s the springboard for the kind of work we want to continue to do in the future.

What would you say are United Way’s greatest accomplishments in the past 90 years?
This organization has really evolved and gone through quite a transformation in last 90 years, tackling tough issues in community that make a difference. We focus on education, financial stability, and access to high-quality healthcare. Over the last five years, we’ve developed a process to establish community goals in each of our focus areas. We released community score cards last April, so we have goals that are measurable and we’re reporting back the impact we’ve been making.

What is it you love so much about United Way?
We’re a mission-based organization that’s focused on changing lives. It’s rewarding work. We are about helping people reach their full potential, empowering others to be successful, and helping people help themselves. It gets me out of bed every day, but also keeps me up at night because the issues we’re focusing on are complex. It’s a very rewarding profession. It’s the people and the impact that’s most important to me.

How can ordinary people get involved?
We have learned that the younger professionals want to get involved in meaningful experiences, touch their philanthropy, and do something that matters over time. What we’re doing with the younger group is engaging them in projects that are meaningful. Backpacks for Brews was an event where we invited people to come stuff backpacks for students back to school and meet people. We’ve partnered with The Salvation Army and the VNA. We’re in partnership with NFL and CitySquare to provide meals at their Opportunity Center. We had a project on domestic violence awareness did Mothers Day for people at the Family Place shelter. We engage with other like-minded people that make sure Dallas is the best place to live and raise a family.

What’s ahead in the next 90 years?
When we wake up on Feb. 7, we will be completely focused on the future. The relationships that we’ve built in the last two years leading up to this gala — the individuals and familes that will attend — that ‘s where the real cultivation begins. We’ve got a really fun party and we’re going to celebrate, but that’s just the beginning. We’re revealing a technology solution that night that we intend to incorporate more and more in our events and activities. It’s a lot more interactive, with digital strategies so we can connect with the next generation where they are.

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