United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut President and CEO Eric Harrison spoke with MetroHartford Alliance (MHA) Content Manager Nan Price about transitioning into his new role with the organization and building and reinforcing community connections.
NAN PRICE: Tell us a little about United Way and the impact your organization is making here in the Hartford Region.
ERIC HARRISON: United Way of Central Northeastern Connecticut has been around for almost 100 years. Our centennial will be in 2024. We’re a community catalyst that’s bringing resources together, especially with the public and private sectors.
We’re trying to create change and long-term solutions to a lot of the struggles many individuals and families are experiencing due to the pandemic. Pre-pandemic, we’ve been working on those challenges. The pandemic elevated our efforts and gave us an opportunity to serve more in a capacity that we always have.
NAN: You moved to Connecticut and began this new role in February. What are you most looking forward to?
ERIC: It’s a great opportunity. My predecessor was here for 24 years. I’m continuing on her legacy and the strong foundation she’s built. We have a very supportive board of directors and leadership team. With me in this role, it’s a refresh and a reset.
It’s also good timing as things are opening up and more is happening in person. That’s where United Way’s strength really is. It’s getting volunteers to come out and participate in activities. We definitely want to be a partner with businesses as they think about employee engagement strategies and team building activities. We’re excited about getting people out into the community and helping out again.
NAN: Do you have any first-year priorities?
ERIC: Top of mind is engaging with our external and internal stakeholders to get an understanding about our community’s needs. As the new person in town, I can provide a fresh lens on how we can be focused as a community.
A lot of times we all have so many efforts going on with so many different organizations, but what happens when we collectively mobilize resources? What’s a key issue Greater Hartford can focus on, where all the public and private sector can convene and collaborate in a focused way about something that could potentially have major impact in this community?
NAN: You mentioned partnering with local businesses. What is the benefit of being a Strategic Partner with the MHA?
ERIC: We’re looking at the MHA as a space that can help us with that important collaboration piece. As you have a network of partners, we have a network of partners. We want members of the MHA to know we’re here for you as you think about the return to the office and looking at opportunities to give back to the community again in a physical way.
NAN: What does United Way most need from the community? How can people get involved?
ERIC: Funding is always helpful. As a nonprofit, we always have to advocate for investment in our programs. Aside from that, it’s staying engaged, visiting our website, and seeing different types of ways to participate.
Our programs offer all different areas of focus. What area resonates with you? Is it giving to the organization? Is it volunteering for the organization? Is it helping us with some of our advocacy pieces when we’re advocating for key issues legislatively either at the state or the federal level?
NAN: You recently moved to the area. What are you most enjoying about Connecticut?
ERIC: Less traffic! My husband and I moved from the LA area, so traffic here is almost nonexistent in comparison. I must say, I’m very impressed with the food, we’ve been trying many different things in the community. And, for the most part, the people here are extremely friendly and very much willing to connect you.
Having this conversation about membership, community, and connections is great because we’ve definitely experienced that. Whenever we have a need for anything, someone is very willing to connect us to the right person. Again, that’s a sign of a connected community.
We have to be mindful of community and the importance of engaging community, and we have to make it the most attractive community we possibly can. The more attractive that this region is, the more that creates a workforce retention strategy for the Greater Hartford area. Let’s continue to build on that.