Leah King joined United Way of Tarrant County as executive vice president and chief operating officer in 2016. She was named CEO and president in November 2019, just months before the COVID-19 pandemic. The early part of her tenure included finding ways to help seniors in Tarrant County get meals during the shutdown. United Way also helped residents during the winter storm of 2021.

King sat down with Community Impact and discussed the 100th anniversary of United Way in Tarrant County and what the needs are in the county. There are four areas of focus for United Way: community response, community health, financial empowerment, and education and learning.

People might recognize the name United Way, but how would you describe what you do?

A lot of people know the name United Way; our United Way is 100 years old this year. It is probably a familiar name, but many might not exactly know what we do because organizations change over the years. We are an organization that works to identify the major issues that are going on within the community. For us, the community is primarily defined by Tarrant County. We do that by conducting research. We generally hire a third-party researcher, usually an institution of higher education, and the research student goes out to every ZIP code in the community. They do interviews, one-on-one focus groups. They get down to the nitty gritty.

What did the pandemic teach the organization?

We learned so much during the pandemic. The biggest thing that it taught us was how to lead other organizations within the community around large issues. For example, when the pandemic occurred, all of the centers that serve people 60 years of age and older closed immediately, and a lot of times that’s the only meal that they get. If you think about it, they were the most vulnerable population. So we have to figure out how to get them fed. We work closely with Meals on Wheels, Catholic Charities and Tarrant Area Food Bank and with partners age 60 and better to organize and coordinate a system and a structure to get the food out to them quickly. So we were able to supplement the regular food that the seniors would have gotten with fresh produce as well from the food bank. It’s probably one of the best things that we learned through the pandemic.

Can you explain some of the focus areas for Get United, this year’s theme for fundraising?

Community health for us is ensuring that we have access to health care for people that need it. That’s important because there are a number of chronic issues that exist within Tarrant County that, frankly, we aren’t performing very well and that we need to do better. One example is maternal health and infant mortality. We have among the highest infant mortality and maternal health death rate in the state. And it’s been that way for some time. The sad thing about it is on the maternal side, an overwhelming majority of the issues are preventable. Things like access to health care, ability to afford prenatal vitamins, ability to have child care while you’re going in for your doctor’s appointments or even having time off from work.

What can people who are interested in helping the United Way do?

There are so many ways for people to get involved with us. Because for us it is about fundraising, but it’s also about ensuring that people get to know us and learn more about us. We have a very robust volunteer program that people can find out about by going to www.unitedwaytarrant.org.