Volunteer Spotlight: Retired Judge, Mike Howard

Mike has been a long-time supporter of United Way of Greater Stark County and serves as an inspiration for us all. We appreciate your dedication and are very lucky to have you as a donor and volunteer. You are an important part of our organization!

Why did you start volunteering at United Way?

I have always believed that prevention was the best way to address delinquent behavior, so in the early 1990’s I accepted a position on an allocations council as a way to understand the programs in the community that were available for kids, and to provide support for the ones I thought were effective.

What positions have you held at United Way?

I have been an Allocations Council volunteer, chair of an Impact Council, chair of Community Investment Committee that oversees Impact Councils, Board member, and Executive Committee member.

Which of the many United Way programs resonate the most with you?

I like programs that focus on building resilient youth and preventing delinquency. I think Teen Court is one of the best resiliency programs in Stark County. We build resiliency by keeping kids safe and supporting them while they learn problem solving skills that they are then able to use to help the community. Teen Court is a chance for kids to intervene in real delinquency cases and help their peers who are struggling with behavior issues. I also like CARE Team, a non-academic resource at every school in Stark County which provides on-site support to children and families to overcome what are often significant social and emotional barriers to learning. School success helps prevent delinquent behavior and one of the best ways to ensure school success is to make sure every child starts kindergarten fully prepared. I also believe in SPARK. It is a home visitation program that partners with parents to help them assist their child with
kindergarten readiness. SPARK has been the subject of ongoing evaluation that proves that, not only do SPARK kids out perform their peers, the benefits continue as they progress through
subsequent grade levels.

How do you feel your background and skills help United Way and the community?

I am connected to the Courts, the Early Childhood Education community and the K-12 Education community. This enables me to represent those viewpoints when I am at United Way. I have an understanding of the social, emotional challenges facing today’s students especially those resulting from trauma and adverse childhood experiences.

How has United Way grown since the early 1990’s?

We have enhanced our approach to evaluating the effectiveness of programs, and integrated more into the fabric of the community – helping us know the needs and the most effective way of addressing those needs. When outside agencies that were filling a unique role in the community went out of business, we were willing to bring that programing in house to ensure that the services continued with minimal interruption.

Tell us about a moment that defined why you volunteer.

I was very proud when we released Stark County Community Assessment 2019 Edition, in partnership with Stark Community Foundation and The Center for Community Solutions. This was a service we used to provide and had to discontinue for numerous reasons. It was no small achievement to find a partner like Stark Community Foundation and once again provide this valuable report to the community.

What do you wish people knew about United Way?

I wish people had more of an understanding of the multiple roles United Way plays in the community, the dedication of the staff, and how I see them represented at all the important meetings where the welfare of our
community is discussed. We are so much more than just a collector and distributor of money.

How would you respond to someone who chooses not to donate?

Obviously, people have many choices about where to direct their charitable gifts. What makes United Way unique is the allocation process as carried out by the community volunteers on the Impact Councils. A United Way donor can be assured that the agency that is being funded has been reviewed and vetted and that the particular program has demonstrated that it is efficiently and effectively addressing a community problem. Donors do not have that kind of assurance when they arbitrarily answer a charitable appeal on line or on the phone.

How has volunteering changed the way you look at Stark County?

I have a much broader knowledge of the issues facing our community and the individuals and agencies that are effective at addressing them. This was very valuable to me when I was a judge and I was seeking a program for a particular child or family.

“I view our donors as individuals and businesses that are making an investment in solving a community problem.”