Marie Morrow remembers transcribing minutes from Board of Directors’ meetings of the Plymouth Community Fund on a typewriter. Two organizational name changes and 32 years later, Morrow leads the nonprofit now known as Plymouth Community United Way.
A lot has changed since Morrow was hired by the nonprofit organization, but not the mission. The focus remains to reach out and serve human needs in Plymouth, Canton and Western Wayne County.
“It’s been challenging over the years, taking it from a totally volunteer organization to the professional organization it is today,” said Morrow, Plymouth Community United Way president. “It’s a business. We’re in the business of helping people and helping make the community a vibrant place to live, work and raise a family. We’re making a difference in people’s lives.”
Years of service
United Way Worldwide recently recognized Morrow’s years of service at the Community Leaders Conference in Texas where the Plymouth Township resident received an award. Representatives from 1,800 community-based United Ways in 41 countries and territories gathered for the three-day conference to learn, inspire and share ideas about creating lasting change.
“It was amazing to see the number of people who were receiving awards for 30, 40 years with United Way and hearing about the experiences they had,” said Morrow. “We’ve gone from fundraising to community impact. Instead of funding agencies we’re getting to the root of problems, solving issues, supporting programs, looking at outcomes, measuring results.”
Morrow began volunteering for the nonprofit in the fall of 1982 after moving to Michigan from New Hampshire. By February 1983 she was a staff of one.
“There isn’t anything I haven’t done here. I did accounting by hand,” said Morrow, who earned bachelor and master degrees from University of Michigan. “It’s been amazing to watch the great technological changes.
“The corporate climate has changed. The economy affected many things over the years. Early on we were volunteer-based with loaned executives assisting with fundraising. With companies downsizing, staff was necessary to call on companies for donations.”
Today, Morrow and five employees address issues such as basic needs, education and stability/health. In addition to fundraising for programs, they coordinate The Emergency Food Assistance Program for Plymouth and Northville and various collection drives that call on community support throughout the year.
Morrow believes, there is strength in numbers. She took the United Way concept of serving as an umbrella organization that supports a variety of human services and created the Human Service Collaborative to help people unable to find assistance for problems not funded by nonprofit agencies or government. The collaborative accomplishes what none of them could do alone.
“I wanted the nonprofits, churches and service clubs to come together for the good of the community, for the people here to work closer together, solving problems, whether strengthening families, making children successful in school or helping the homeless become financially stable,” said Morrow. “It’s a combination of all those. It’s all about neighbors helping neighbors.”
Morrow is all about community and affecting lives. She was delighted to renew an old friendship at the conference in Texas. Ignacio “Nacho” Espinosa-Godad is launching the first United Way in Spain. He lived with Morrow and son, Christopher, as a 15-year old Youth Exchange Student.
“When I was an exchange student in 1989 Marie opened her house to me. From that experience, a world of opportunities has now opened to me in United Way in my own country,” wrote Ignacio “Nacho” Espinosa-Godad in an email.
“Marie, Chris and I laughed lots. We laughed at our differences as we learned of our similarities. Now, more than 25-years later, I know it was also enriching. With Marie I learned how much common good we can build together. I am only trying to emulate her as I open United Way in Spain and aiming to take it where Plymouth Community United Way is now.”
Morrow is humble about influencing Espinosa’s career path, as well as her history of volunteering. Over the years, Morrow’s served on various boards and is actively involved in community organizations as a volunteer. She’s been a member of the Noon Rotary Club in Plymouth since 1989 and is currently Secretary/Treasurer. In previous years, she served on Rotary’s District 6400 Youth Exchange Committee in a variety of chairmanships. She is a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church where she is active in music and other ministries. Morrow earned a Pastoral Ministry Certificate from Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit and is currently pursuing certification in Spiritual Direction.
Tom Salapatek met Morrow 20 years ago. He served as Board of Directors Chairperson from 1998 through 2000, and Campaign Chairperson in 2006, volunteering to raise funds for programs.
“Marie is a caring person in making sure everyone can be helped who can be helped,” said Tom Salapatek of Canton. “Over the years we’ve had more active involvement of key sponsors. Corporate support has grown and community awareness. Although there still needs to be more, more volunteers taking on the role of making a difference in the community.”
Morrow knows she can count on executives from local corporations such as, Johnson Controls. In addition to achieving the status of Platinum donor for 25 years of contributions, Johnson Controls, together with DTE Energy, co-sponsor the nonprofit’s major fundraiser, Tee Off for a Friend. Proceeds from the annual golf outing go to Plymouth Community United Way’s Long Term Investment Fund. In years to come, this money will cover 100 percent of administrative costs.
Curt Bastianelli, executive director of purchasing, Automotive Seating at Johnson Controls, joined the golf committee 16 years ago and Board of Directors last year. Aug. 20 is the 17th annual golf outing.
“Plymouth Community United Way is very well organized and stable,” said Bastianelli, a long-time Canton resident now living in Northville. “Marie’s done a great job and has a very strong board with Johnson Controls, Bosch, Lear, DTE Energy (Comcast/NBC Universal, UPS, Consumers Energy, Varroc Lighting, UAW Local 845, Huron Valley Ambulance) supporting this community. That’s very positive for United Way. Part of it is trusting what we do. We wouldn’t have large corporate participation if there wasn’t that trust.”
Last year, the campaign staff exceeded their fundraising goal of $1,000,050 with the help of individuals and more than 100 businesses. Howard Behr knows first-hand, donations to Plymouth Community United Way help individuals and families through programs ranging from education to food pantries.
That’s why he’s served on the Board of Directors for 18 years and as chairperson in 2003 and 2004. Behr also volunteers on the Long Term Investment Fund, Finance, and Golf Outing committees. He first became involved with Plymouth Community United Way when he worked as a Controller for Ford Motor Company.
“You have to give back,” said Behr explaining his long time commitment to the nonprofit. “I’m impressed, Marie ensures outside financial auditors are brought in every year and they never had any issues. She makes sure things are done according to rules and regulations and there is a clean, clear financial audit.”
While Morrow appreciates the accolades from United Way Worldwide and her friends, she is deeply touched by her 13-year old granddaughter, Isabella’s desire to volunteer at the organization, dear to her heart. Isabella Murphy-Morrow has been giving of her time for several years.
The West Middle School student represents the future. Without her support and that of other youth and the community, the work of helping others would not be able to continue.
“Our local United Way is successful because of the tremendous time, talent and treasures of all the volunteers and community donors,” said Morrow.
For more information, visit www.plymouthunitedway.org
Linda Ann Chomin (firstname.lastname@example.org