BY DENISE SAUTTERS
Repository staff writer
Maria Heege wakes up every morning excited to go to work.
Heege is the president and chief executive officer for United Way of Greater Stark County. Over 34 years, she’s worked her way up the ladder to her position with the social services agency.
Back in the day, the North Canton resident said, the United Way had a Voluntary Action Center. At that time, they had a Case Aid program that trained volunteers to be paraprofessionals in social work. Classes were held twice a year.
“In the course of the program, we taught interview skills, listening skills and diversity, and really tried to have volunteers very well-rounded in paraprofessional social work out in the community,” she said. “In the wrapup of these sessions, we invited volunteer directors from across the community to come in with a volunteer and talk about their agency and why you would want to volunteer with that agency.”
At the time, Heege was in college, working an internship at Indian River School for Boys in Massillon.
“I was there, working with the coordinator, developing a volunteer program,” she said. “The United Way asked me to come and speak to the Case Aid program. The next year, (UW) decided they were really going to launch that program and make the volunteer center even larger. They contacted me and asked me if I would be interested in accepting the position of volunteer director of the program.”
That was March 17, 1981. She remembers it well because the director of the United Way asked her what color jacket she was wearing. She thought she was being tested, but the truth was, the executive director at that time was color blind.
That was her introduction into United Way of Central Stark County as it was known then. It was under her guidance the United Way became the United Way of Greater Stark County. Her trip to the top included being director of the Retired Senior Volunteer program, working the phone lines for Information and Referral (2-1-1), getting involved in the capital campaign, moving into the associate director’s position, and then, finally, being was named president and CEO.
“I truly am an example of that generation that started and worked pretty much every aspect of a company,” she said.
Heege grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (She is now a faithful Ohio State fan), one of four children, including one with special needs.“Looking back, we never felt like dollars were stretched. I don’t know that they were, but I know we didn’t have a great deal growing up,” she said. “My mom was a stay-at-home mom and worked very hard in the home. As my father continued his career it got easier. I would not say we grew up low income, but we grew up with the one pair of shoes a year, the spring coat. I don’t remember there being a lot, but I don’t remember wanting for anything either.” Her desire to help others came from her mother.
“My mother was very passionate about volunteering too, so my youngest years were walking door-to-door for the residential campaign for United Way,” she said. “My mother gave them that look so you did not dare not put something in that can. I really started young. I learned at a very young age about giving back.”
Because of the work the United Way does in the community, Heege said she loves her job.
“We know the United Way touches one in three people in Stark County,” said Heege. “We know it is not always an emergency, but often times it is. You don’t know when you look across the street the story that takes place every night at that home. Is there food on the table? Are the kids taken care of? Everyone has a story. Sometimes it means having extra support.”
To view the original Canton Repository article, please click here.