United Way of the Wine Country president brings new energy to decades-old organization
On Lisa Carreño’s first day as the new CEO and president of the United Way of the Wine Country, the local branch of a global charitable nonprofit organization, she held a morning staff meeting for introductions to be made. Toward the end of that meeting, she invited everyone to her office later that afternoon for a celebratory cleansing with burning sage, to bring in positive energy and spirit.
“I was kind of sheepishly letting them know this was something that I felt like I wanted and needed to do to ground myself in the space, and invited them to be a part of it if they wanted to,” said Carreño, 56. “And many of them participated in it.”
The inclusive, spiritual gathering was the foot on which Carreño, a longtime community leader, began her new chapter last summer as the first woman and Latina to head the United Way of the Wine Country since its inception over 50 years ago. It was fitting for a spiritual woman whose lifelong social advocacy work embodies her core belief in building bridges and creating community.
“I believe people really crave community,” she said.
Carreño has served on an exhaustive number of social advocacy and community groups, from being the only Latina to chair the Sonoma County Fair board of directors, to serving on the Sonoma County LGBTQI Giving Circle Steering Committee to being a part of Rep. Mike Thompson’s immigration advisory group, to being the first community member in 2014 appointed to The Press Democrat editorial board.
Since she’s taken the helm at United Way, the organization has raised about $120,000 for the Sonoma County flood recovery and wellness fund, following the worst flooding along the Russian River in over two decades this February. Fundraising for flood victims has proved more challenging than fundraising for wildfire victims, she said.
She partly attributed the challenge to the psychological response to seeing structures still standing after flood, while the aftermath of a firestorm appears more visually devastating. However, she said more vulnerable low- to moderate-income people were impacted by the flooding.
“The disaster may be equal, but the recovery is always inequitable,” she said.
United Way announced this month that in July it will begin to manage 2-1-1 Sonoma County, a free telephone and web-based service that connects residents with health and human service agencies. The service is currently managed by the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County, which Carreño said have been strong partners with United Way for over 30 years.
The change at 2-1-1 will make it a more robust information system during a crisis or disaster, including more multimedia tools like additing two-way texting capabilities and an upgrade in how to search data on its website.
“It will be very user friendly and more organized,” Carreño said.
Another effort United Way will soon undertake is partnering with California Complete Count, a state committee, to ensure an accurate U.S. Census in 2020, which will be the first to rely heavily on online responses. It’s a challenge in the area, where there are populations who are considered difficult to count, including residents in homes without internet, renters, low-income residents and immigrants fearful of deportation.