Dona Ponepinto, President and CEO of United Way of Pierce County in Tacoma, WA, has a steady, decades-long history of service to United Way. But, perhaps surprisingly, the most consistent theme you’ll find in her lengthy experience is anything but consistency. Ask anyone who knows Dona, and they’ll tell you that she’s not afraid of change.
“Part of what I’ve done throughout my United Way career, and something I’m probably most proud of, is being a change agent,” Dona says. “Even when I started out with United Way in California more than 30 years ago and things were still somewhat traditional, we were learning how to move in a different direction. Learning about how to better bring communities and partners along to be part of change.”
"Even when I started out with United Way in California more than 30 years ago and things were still somewhat traditional, we were learning how to move in a different direction. Learning about how to better bring communities and partners along to be part of change."
“The transformation of this United Way has been fun to be a part of. It’s where I get my energy,” says Dona. Her energy is contagious, and has inspired staff and partners to get on board with projects such as UWPC’s Center for Strong Families initiative, a project that started in 2016 and has served more than 3,500 families in the area. Funded by more than 15 partners and working in collaboration with organizations like Goodwill, Sound Outreach, Bethel School District, Clover Park Technical College, Tacoma Community House, and the Tacoma Housing Authority, UWPC has opened seven centers to support families as they become more self-sufficient, increase their income, decrease expenses, build credit, and acquire assets.
“It’s about giving people a hand up, not just a hand out,” she says.
Dona served as Vice President of Community Investments for United Way for Southeastern Michigan from 2006 to 2013, a position she was hesitant at first to apply for after living in Southern California for almost 18 years, but proved to be “one of the most fun and challenging roles” she’s ever taken on. During her time in Detroit, she embraced her role as an agent of change and helped the organization reimagine how they invested in communities while also honoring the rich history of the area. Before working in Detroit, Dona spent more than 15 years in California working for Orange County’s United Way and United Way of Greater Los Angeles. In fact, her relationship with United Way stems back even further to when she was a child watching her parents support United Way.
“My mother actually helped start the First Call for Help, a precursor to the 211 program at the United Way in Beaufort, South Carolina,” Dona says proudly. “My parents gave to United Way for more than 20 years. I guess you could say United Way has always been in my blood.” With deep roots in the organization and a strong vision for the future, it’s no surprise that Dona’s time with United Way has been such a positive experience for herself and the many partners she has worked with.
“This isn’t just my career, it’s my vocation,” she says. “And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”