The Kenai Peninsula United Way has a new executive director.
Amy Manuel, an eight-year peninsula resident, took over the position earlier this month, after longtime director Evy Gebhardt left for a job in the private sector.
Manuel, whose nonprofit experience stems from a two-year stint with the Kenai Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she's excited about the opportunity to take on a job that helps people.
The United Way is a nonprofit organization that supports 27 area agencies through an annual fund drive. The United Way sponsors the charitable giving campaign throughout the community, then distributes money to organizations ranging from senior centers to teen groups to crisis management groups throughout the peninsula.
"The money we collect, raise from all the great people in the community who donate, stays here," she said. "They can see it working in their own community."
Manuel will be responsible for helping organize the annual fund-raising campaign, which begins in late summer. Though the effort officially is headed by campaign chair Rod Cason of Tesoro, Manuel will help plan the kick-off events throughout the peninsula. The first is a cruise out of Seward in August, followed by kick-off parties in Kenai and Homer in September.
Manuel also oversees the distribution of funds to member agencies and deals with all the paperwork in the office.
But, she said, her primary duty is to interact with the community. Manuel will present the public face of the United Way, offering presentations to community groups, encouraging donations in a one-on-one setting with residents and visiting all the member agencies.
"I like it because it makes me go out and talk to people and visit them in their own environments," she said. "It's helping me as a person to grow."
Manuel said she also is available as a resource to residents in the area.
"If someone needs help and they really don't know where to go, they can call me," she said. "This isn't necessarily the place they would come to receive items, but I can tell them where to go. I have a lot of resources and information."
Despite her excitement about the new job, Manuel knows it probably won't be easy. Her biggest concern is the effect of the current economic state on charitable giving.
"People right now are feeling the economic crunch," she said. "It could be hard to convince some people not all people, there are always some who want to give no matter what because they see the need that even though times are tough, they're tougher for other people.
"My biggest challenge is going to be convincing people that though they may take a pay cut, there are people out there who are worse off, who have lost their job, their house, who don't have clothes or food."
And, Manuel said, she's speaking from experience.
Manual first moved to Alaska when her husband joined the Army and was stationed near Fairbanks. She worked for Kmart, and after her husband left the Army, she was transferred to the Kenai Peninsula. She left Kmart before Kenai's Big Kmart store closed but most recently worked in the human resources department at Agrium. Her job was one of several cut earlier this year much to her surprise.
"At the time, it seemed like a negative, but now it's a positive," she said. "This job is so much more rewarding. I get to go out and meet people, talk to people and do good work. It's a blessing in disguise."
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