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Where there's a Woods, there's a United Way
When he's not working, Robert Woods might be found walking his golden retriever Tiller in Rocky Ridge County Park or biking the mile to his office from his Spring Garden Township home.
"It's been a fantastic place to live, work and play," he said of York County. "No idea where the time went."
The 25-year executive director of York County's United Way is retiring at the end of June.
Woods doesn't know yet if he'll leave the county where he spent so many years, but he knows he likes the cold.
"I do like the winter," Woods said. "I will not be moving south."
As executive director of United Way, Woods spends most of his day outside the office, fundraising and meeting one-on-one with potential contributors and government officials. His latest effort is trying to secure help for displaced families from Puerto Rico after the devastating hurricanes this fall.
“I do a lot during the day, which makes the job the most interesting," he said.
Woods and hi wife, Judy Woods, have been married for 45 years. She is in the Continuing Education Department at Penn State York. Their son, Matthew, is a recent graduate of Penn State in Mechanical Engineering and has his own business, Xact Metal, located in State College.
Woods has always enjoyed meeting people, developing relationships and taking on a challenge.
In his blood: “I was a typical kid," he said.
Woods grew up in Port Huron, Michigan, an area of about 35,000 on Lake Huron, just north of Detroit. The youngest of four brothers, he liked sports and always had a lot of friends.
United Way “got in my blood as a kid,” he said.
He was in the Saginaw youth council when he was about 16 or 17, and the United Way sponsored a program helping the Dr. Tom Dooley Foundation — an international organization that provided services to places in Africa.
Going to schools in the Saginaw area and asking for funding for the foundation sparked his interest in fundraising.
“That was my big memory,” Woods said. He enjoyed the challenge of raising money, but he also recognized a good feeling in helping others.
He envisioned someday working for the United Way.
Woods graduated from the University of Michigan with a sociology degree, but his focus was always on community organizing and research.
In 1980, he got his first job with the United Way as a field representative for the state-run United Way of Michigan, which led to working in a local United Way in Jackson County, Michigan.
“Then you become part of the community,” he said about working locally. "At the local level, you get to see who you’ve helped."
During his work with United Way of Michigan, he helped a United Way in Plymouth, Michigan raise $500,000 with a volunteer staff.
“I really learned hands-on all about what United Way did," he said.
In York County, he found another local community with which he could get involved.
Impact in York County: Woods became executive director of United Way of York County in 1992, and throughout his 25 years with the organization, he has made a substantial impact.
The organization raised close to $157 million in the course of Woods' 25 years, and leadership giving (gifts of $1,000 or more) increased from 7 percent of overall giving when he first started to the now 46 percent of annual fundraising, according to a news release.
“When I started out, the campaign was raising about ($4 million or $4.5) million,” said director of finance Beth Loucks, who began working at United Way in 1994.
“People talk about having community impact,” Woods said. “It does take resources. You need to raise money and provide it to those organizations and fund those programs.”
But Woods also had an impact on the people he worked with every day.
“We all see things from a certain perspective, and he’s willing to listen to things and have discussions,” Loucks said. “It makes you feel valued, and that you are a part of the team.”
Vicki Klinedinst, the director of community impact for United Way, has worked with Woods for most of her 21 years at the nonprofit.
She said he has very strong opinions — a trait they both share.
“He knows what he wants (and has an) integrity of ethics in what he does,” Klinedinst said, adding the community values his knowledge and opinions.
"Having that energy and commitment will be missed."
"I would say Bob is very hands-on," said director of education initiatives Sara Bradley, who has worked with Woods for six years. "In terms of his leadership, he really cares about the people we serve."
She recalls an instance where he went out of his way to greet someone in the halls of United Way and point them in the right direction — a small act that was nice to see from a leader at his level.
“I started here when I was in my 20s,” Loucks said, with emotion in her voice. “So he’s been a good role model and a good person to work for.”
Passion projects: Education has been a strong focus for Woods at United Way.
In 1994, he helped form Focus on Our Future (now FOCUS) with the York County Community Foundation, Penn State York and the United Way, which had the goal of giving every child in York County access to early childhood education, stated a news release.
“Education is the key to the progress and success of our country, and early childhood education is where it starts," Woods said.
He explained that the brain is 85 percent developed by the time a child is 5 and that studies have shown the importance of education to prepare children for kindergarten.
When Woods started, the county had only one accredited child care center, and now there are 12.
He also was involved in other education programs, including the Youth Court Alliance — a court program for truant children — and programs that helped kids improve their reading skills beyond what they were taught in school.
Another focus for Woods was health.
According to a news release, Woods had a key role in forming the Healthy York County Coalition, which does projects such as three-year health assessments that help determine the greatest needs in the county.
On the state level, Woods was involved in a state association of United Ways in Pennsylvania, and this year saw the implementation of a statewide 211 system for human services.
York County has more than 1,000 nonprofit organizations, Woods said, and people don’t always know what’s available in their communities.
Community generosity: “The more you’re around, the more you get to know people,” Loucks said, and for Woods, developing relationships was important, especially since he was new to the community.
Woods has been "amazed at the generosity in York County," from organizations he's worked with to individuals and many family-led businesses that supported the United Way with time and money.
“I’m ready to start Chapter 3 of my life," said Woods, who has been married to his wife, Judy, for 45 years. The couple has an adult son, Matthew.
Woods will be 66 in April and is ready to pass the baton. Someone younger who knows more about technology and social media, he said, will be able to come in with creative new ways of meeting community needs.
Editor's note: This article has been changed to add in a paragraph about Bob Woods' family.