O’Neal named new president of United Way of Central WV

Margaret O’Neal

United Way of Central West Virginia has found its next president, who said she plans to push for more fundraising and outreach opportunities for the community development charity.

Margaret O’Neal, United Way of Southern West Virginia’s executive director, will take over as United Way of Central West Virginia’s president Aug. 21. She is replacing John Ballengee, who announced in March that he is stepping down after holding the position since 2004.

O’Neal, who has been executive director for nearly 10 years, said United Way offered her the position in June after an “exhausting” interview process. Becoming president of the Charleston-based branch provides an opportunity to work more closely with state and government leaders, which could benefit all West Virginians, O’Neal said.

Michelle Rotellini will take over as executive director of United Way of Southern West Virginia once O’Neal moves to her new position. She currently is the branch’s vice president of finance.

O’Neal, an Oak Hill native, has been involved with United Way as an employee or volunteer since 1990. But O’Neal said it might take her some time to adjust to heading up a new branch in the organization.

“My first goal is to not be overwhelmed,” she said with a laugh.

However, O’Neal said Ballengee will leave the branch with its wheels “still running smoothly” and that she plans to lean on experienced staff members early on while getting a feel for Central West Virginia’s specific needs.

“I really need to interact with agency partners and people in the community before I say what exactly needs to happen,” she said. “I want to go out there and see what people need, because United Way is growing, and we have a lot of ways we can make an impact.”

O’Neal said she wants to boost the branch’s fundraising efforts, as in December 2016 the Gazette-Mail reported the branch had barely reached half of its $2.2 million yearly fundraising goal. She said she has a two-pronged approach for organizational fundraising: pushing direct fundraising efforts (including having the branch host a “signature fundraising event”) and raising awareness of United Way’s value to the region.

“You have to build relationships and let people know what we do,” she said. “It would be a tragedy if anything happened to United Way. We fight for crucial things like health, financial stability and education.”

O’Neal has guided the Southern West Virginia branch during a difficult time for the seven counties it covers. Drug abuse and the decline of the coal industry in recent years have underlined the importance of United Way and other organizations in the region, she said.

United Way has combated the region’s tribulations by pushing for more direct community interaction, according to O’Neal. The perception that United Way is exclusively a fundraising organization is changing as it has lent a hand during recent state crisis-relief efforts like the June 2016 flood.

O’Neal said the central region of the state is faring better, but added that it is still seeing its fair share of challenges.

“You do have places that are doing generally better like Kanawha and Putnam,” she said. “But there are still drug addiction challenges and people who need help even there.”

O’Neal said she is particularly looking forward to having a hand in the branch’s Day of Caring, which is slated for Sept. 17 this year. The annual event sees hundreds of volunteers work on projects to benefit nonprofits and other entities in central West Virginia. For the 2017 edition, volunteers are currently slated to work on 55 projects, according to O’Neal.

“It’s what United Way is all about,” she said. “I’m super excited. We have 600 volunteers right now, but more room is still available.”

The deadline to register for Day of Caring is Aug. 18. For more information, call United Way of Central West Virginia at 304-340-3500 or visit unitedwaycwv.org.

Reach Max Garland at max.garland@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4886 or follow @MaxGarlandTypes on Twitter.

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