Connecting People that Can Help with People that Need Help with Chris Saello
Podcast published: January 12, 2024
We spend time with Chris Saello, President & CEO of the United Way of Chester County. We explore how the United Way operates and how it supports our local community generally. Chris then walks us through the many exciting and impact-focused programs that the United Way is delivering to address a range of significant local needs. We also focus on the ALICE community and the work being done to support those in need there … and more.
United Way of Chester County
- Chris Saello on LinkedIn
- What does United Way do?
- Next Generation United Way
- Social Innovation Lab
- Mobile Home Tax Reassessment Program
- Ways to Get Involved
- Facebook: UWChesterCounty
- Instagram: UWChesterCounty
- Twitter: @UWChesterCounty
- Chester County Economic Development Council (CCEDC)
- i2N (a CCEDC Initiative)
- Great Valley Launchbox
- CareerLink of Chester County
- Chester County Workforce Development Board
Chester County Non-Profits
- Crime Victim’s Center of Chester County
- Aiden’s Heart
- Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania
- Housing Partnership of Chester County
- Youth Mentoring Partnership
- Chester County Partnership to End Homelessness
Related Start Local Episodes
- Investing in Your Local Community with Susan Springsteen of nth Solutions
- Fighting Food Insecurity Locally with Andrea Youndt of the Chester County Foodbank
- Advocating for Local Businesses and Organizations with Laura Manion of the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry
- Running a Data Analytics and Software Development Company with Chris MacNeel
Intro: Welcome to Start Local, where we talk with business owners, leaders of nonprofits, and other members of our community focused on doing business in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania. Each episode will provide insight into the local business scene and tell you about opportunities to connect with and support businesses and nonprofits in your local area.
The Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce promotes trade commerce industry and sustainable economic development while supporting a diverse and growing marketplace. The Chamber is proud to partner with the Start Local podcast to raise a profile of businesses and nonprofits throughout Chester County. Learn more about the chamber at [ccc.com].
Erik Gudmundson: Welcome to Start Local, where we connect with local leaders to support local businesses and nonprofits in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania. I am Erik Gudmundson, and I’m here today with my co-host, Liam Dempsey. Liam, how are you doing today?
Liam Dempsey: Fantastic, Erik. Thanks for asking. How are you?
Erik Gudmundson: I’m doing very well. I’d like to welcome our guests to the show, but before I do that, Liam and I wanted to take a moment to remind you that we are planning an in-person gathering at a local venue to be announced. And we are working on the date, which is also to be announced, but we’re shooting for February, we’re so of 2024.
Liam Dempsey: That’s right, Erik. As our plans develop the best way to keep informed aside from listening to our podcast is to head over to our website at [startlocal.co] and click on the subscribe now button at the top of every page. That way when we have more details to share and we have a date and a venue, you’ll be among the first to know.
Erik Gudmundson: Excellent. Well, today we are pleased to have Christopher Saello with us. Chris is the president and CEO of the United Way of Chester County. Welcome, Chris.
Chris Saello: Good afternoon, Erik and Liam. Thanks for having me.
Erik Gudmundson: Well, as we said, you’re the president and CEO of the United Way of Chester County, but before pulling you into your work about that leadership role, let’s start with a bigger question. practically, everyone has heard of the United Way, yet we expect that a notably smaller percentage of people know what the United Way truly does. So, what does the United Way of Chester County do and how does it support our local community?
Chris Saello: Well, our organization is approaching our 80th anniversary, and it’s been a conglomeration of community funds and district charities. But the best way I ever heard, the United Way described was we connect people that can help with people that need help. And it’s done in a variety of ways through supporting nonprofit organizations with grants to mobilizing volunteers, to advocacy, and many other, other ways. But, primarily, really that’s what we do. We work to identify challenges and issues in the community, and then we try to bring the breast and brightest around the table to find solutions to those community problems. And then we try to mobilize financial support to address those issues.
Liam Dempsey: That’s really interesting, Chris. So the, United Way, we know operates at a national level and you’re our local Chester County level. And there are United Way chapters all across the country. How does your United Way, the United Way of Chester County work with all the other United Way chapters? How does that work?
Chris Saello: So, United Way’s an interesting organization, very similar to the YMCA. There is a national organization called the United Way Worldwide, but every United Way is its own independent 501 C3 organization, and there’s over a thousand of them in the US. We have our own local Chester County board, we make our own decisions on where the investments go. We do pay a very small dues to be a United Way and that we follow, we agree to follow certain brand guidelines and things like that. But, it’s truly a unique organization that is locally run, locally driven and it really is focused on local needs. So, regardless of which community you go into, your United Way is a reflection of that community’s needs.
And, we are really engaged with the United Ways in Pennsylvania. We’re a member of the United Way, Pennsylvania. I also serve on their board and executive committee as well as their public policy committee. And there’s about 53 United Ways in Pennsylvania, a very close network where, we’re always working on collaborative projects with our neighbors. And, it’s a really strong network where we make each other stronger. We learn from each other, both, you know, creative, innovative ideas, as well as, you know, what isn’t working. And so that we don’t make the same mistakes as others may have made along the way. And we, they’re the best of the best and we have learned so much from them, just being part of the United Way, Pennsylvania network.
Liam Dempsey: That’s an excellent background. So, thank you for sharing that, Chris. But right now, I wanna focus a little more directly on you. I’m curious what it’s like serving as the president and CEO? and how do you go about fulfilling your duties and responsibilities? What’s a typical day look like for you?
Chris Saello: You know, if that’s prem March 12th, 2020 or after because it certainly has changed a lot. With Covid hitting, our organization had to pivot like many. And, you know, these days, the focus has really been on where is the community in terms of the nonprofit sector, in terms of residents and their recovery? And what we found is they’re all along a spectrum. Some are in much better shape than they were going into covid. Some are still in difficult situations, and that goes with the nonprofit sector. So as part of our kind of daily rebuild of rebuilding our United Way for the next generation, we’re really focused on one-on-one relationships with nonprofits. Where are they at and how do we help them build their capacity in the way that they need it, not the way that we think they need it.
And so that’s why I spend a lot of my time talking with nonprofits, talking with corporate partners who have workforce development challenges, and some of their employees may be dealing with some of these social service issues that prevent them from being as good as they can be in the workplace. So, we gather a lot of information. We pull a lot of partners around the table and spend a lot of time focused on where the needs are, where the gaps in services are, and how do we help jumpstart solutions to some of those.
Erik Gudmundson: That sounds like it makes for a busy day. So, we know that your organization recently purchased and renovated a 5,000 square foot standalone building in Exton, Pennsylvania. And in speaking with you before we hit the record button, Chris, we understand that the decision to make that move was quick and very unexpected for you and your colleagues. It’s a long story, we know that, but can you give us the Reader’s Digest version?
Chris Saello: I would love to. This building is, it’s a testament of community. We were located in Westchester for many years and about six years ago. Now, we had moved to Exton because we were trying to lower our overhead and lower the rent and had signed a five-year lease. And when that lease was coming up in 2022. we thought that we could negotiate back down. There was a lot of empty space out there, and much to our surprise, it went up and we were forced to look at moving again. We had some really courageous board members, as well as a wonderful partner of United Way, the Chester County Economic Development Council, and Mary Francis. You ought to look at buying a building. It’s time you have a permanent home. And it led us on an unexpected journey. We did not have a plan to buy a building. It wasn’t in a strategic plan. It wasn’t in a business plan. But, February 22nd, 2022, we started looking, and it came together really quickly. We went under agreement of sale in March of 2022. As we approached that 90 day due diligence period, launched a silent capital campaign that raised $1.4 million. So the whole building’s paid for the renovations were paid for and that what we’ve been normally be paying in rent occupancy now goes back to the community.
The great thing about that is that when we went through this capital campaign, we asked every donor. We said, if you wanna support the building, it has to be above and beyond any current support. We don’t wanna redirect money that we’re raising for grants towards a building. And every single donor agreed to it. We took possession of the building June 1st, and corporate partners just rallied around this project, giving us pro bono.
Project management, architectural work, legal work, marketing support, and this amazing renovation happened in 90 days. Lots of donations from crypto partners with lights and it, we were in the building in OC the beginning of October, and our old lease ran out the end of October. So, something magical about this project happened, but we were able to design the building for the community because we felt like it was a gift to us from the community.
Erik Gudmundson: That is nothing short of incredible. I mean, what an amazing success story you have there that’s utterly brilliant for both you and your supporters. You mentioned that you’re supporting the community with that building, and, I’m curious how are local nonprofits using your offices and facilities? Are there specific benefits that you can extend to them that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to access? And how much usage have you seen of it from these local nonprofits?
Chris Saello: That’s probably one of the most exciting parts of this building is, you know, when we went through the redesign of the building, which was formerly just an office building, you know, we took a lot of walls down and we built a leadership center. We built a social innovation lab and we built a financial independence hub. Three spaces that the community can use.
And what it’s done is it’s given us the opportunity to build relationships with nonprofits that we didn’t know. Frankly, prior to it, but also nonprofits that we’ve had a relationship for a long time with that, you know, have additional needs for space to either expand their services or keep from having them having to pay rental fees.
And we’ve had some just amazing things that have happened in here. I’ll give you a couple examples. crime Victim Centers recently held their sexual assault nurses examiner training here. It’s a 40 hour training. So, we had a building full of nurses for four days, you know, learning about sexual assault and becoming a certified examiner. Stuff we never would’ve imagined that we’d have been able to be a part of Aiden’s Heart Foundation, a wonderful organization based outta Downingtown that teaches people how to do CPR an use AEDs, is now using our building as their headquarters for all their community CPR classes. And starting this January, they’ll be doing EKG screenings for youth which is pretty amazing.
And then the whole gamut, we had legal aid and an organization called Grand Families that worked with grandparents on custody issues. And the space worked out well because they had the big room to do more of an education session and then they could do breakouts with individual families, and lots of nonprofits like the housing partnership of Chester County, and the Youth Mentoring Partnership use it for things like board meetings or mentor training. So, the diversity of use has been incredible, but it’s also, it makes us come alive. You know, in our old work and in our old space, we, it was just a small office space, so we really didn’t come in contact with our partners in action. And now we have, and it really has changed our relationship with nonprofits and the community.
We also, you know, open it up to chambers of commerce to use and have done some appreciation things. We recently had an appreciation lunch for the partnership and homelessness in Chester County, where we brought it together, 60 or 70 people working to help end homelessness in Chester County. And we did a big Leone’s Pizza lunch for them, and just to say thank you. So, it’s given us a lot of different opportunities to reach out to the nonprofit sector and fill a bit of a need. But also when you’re around, people and you get that conversation going, it’s amazing the things and collaborations that come together.
Erik Gudmundson: Chris, I do some volunteering with the Crime Victim Center of Chester County and, trying to help with some of their communication efforts. And we recently had a meeting at your offices and I gotta be honest with you, I thought we were kind of going into just like a coworking space, and you know, I knew it was United Way of Chester County. I wasn’t sure, I didn’t think I was at some just general place, but I kind of figured we would just be in there and nothing special, but your team, your folks who greeted us coming in for this meeting and wanted to make sure we’re all set up, and it was more than just, here’s a nice facility, please use it. There was friendship, there was camaraderie. How are you going back and forth by names. It was really special to see. So I’m so glad to hear that, that space is working out so well. What a great gift to the community.
Chris Saello: An incredible gift. And you know, we take that very seriously. You know, we know that, that money that we would’ve spent on rent that we can now deploy, redeploy into the community to benefit people is a great gift. And that’s not a one time gift, right? That’s a year after year after year gift. So, we feel like we have a responsibility to make sure that we put this building to use and it’ll never be busy enough for me.
i don’t like the silence in the building, but we encourage any nonprofit to reach out to us if they need some space. The leadership center, they all, the rooms have state-of-the-art technology. We don’t charge any fees at all, no cleaning fees, any, no rental fees. And any nonprofit can use it at no charge. So, we encourage ’em to reach out to us and take advantage of this space. And it’s centrally located in the county, right In Exton.
Liam Dempsey: That’s great. Thanks for that. So you talked about your new social innovation lab. Tell us about the lab. What are you trying to achieve with the lab and how’s it going?
Chris Saello: So the social innovation lab has been another thing that wasn’t on our radar. But you know, as we kind of went through this journey with the building, we had some extra space and, you know, one of our biggest challenges in pet peeves is that you know, nonprofits aren’t built to be innovative and entrepreneurial. It’s not, doesn’t mean they’re not, but right, they’re told keep your overhead down. So, you know, oftentimes they’re afraid to take risks and chances. And so, we’ve reached out to a great partner of ours in the Chester County Economic Development Council who has an i2N program, that works with entrepreneurs. And we said, well, what if we partnered with you and we did something for nonprofits to teach them those same concepts.
But then when they come up with creative solutions to community problems, we fund pilot programs so they can try it without putting their organization at risk. And that was the initial concept. We pulled together a social innovation lab steering committee that’s some of the best and brightest people in the county in social innovation.
You know, we’ve got the West Chester University’s involved. Penn State Great Valley’s Launchboxes involved. the economic development Councils involved. Susan Springsteen, an entrepreneur in Coatesville. And this group has spent a lot of time and a lot of hours talking about what’s needed and what the structure should be. We originally worked building it, thinking it was going to be just a program. What has turned out to be is really an umbrella of programs and a series of things including I believe in two days, ChatGPT for nonprofits session that’s coming up. So, it turned into something we didn’t expect, but we kind of let the committee and the community and the nonprofit sector kind of lead where it goes.
And it’s gonna be a constantly evolving process, and project, and, you know, we’re gonna fill the gaps that we feel like that we need to fill, but also be very responsive to what nonprofits need to be strong today and even stronger tomorrow.
Erik Gudmundson: Wow. That’s some interesting stuff you have going on there. I wanted to talk about something that is interesting to me, and I find it to be one of the most insightful things that the United Way does, and that’s the ALICE study. We talked about it with Laura Manion back in episode 34, and for our listeners, ALICE stands for Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed. And that acronym speaks to a local community where people exist above the federally defined poverty line, yet still lack sufficient income to fulfill their own basic needs.
They could be one expected expense away from slipping into poverty. So, it’s a really concerning population. So for some local context, Chester County is certainly one of the wealthiest counties in Pennsylvania, if not the nation. We have a poverty rate of 6%, but there is an additional 24% rate of ALICE households. So would you please explain more about the ALICE community as the United Way defines it and what you’re doing to help them?
Chris Saello: Erik, I’m so glad you asked me about that because when the analyst report in Pennsylvania came out in 2019, it was shocking. Shocking to the business sector who’s financially supported us, that it was, people were having a hard time believing that in the wealthiest county in Pennsylvania, And the, you know, that PE there were so many people were one dead car battery away from financial crisis.
And we rolled the ALICE report out at our annual meeting that summer, July of 2019 and, you know, people were scratching their heads a bit, but we decided, you know, we had to figure out who is our target market, right? Our work that we do is in education, health, and financial stability. And it’s the healthiest, wealthiest, and fun, most educated county in the state. So, how do we define and put that flag in the ground and say, this is who the United Way serves, and we chose population, right? They’rejust above the federal poverty line. So, they don’t qualify for a lot of benefits, but they’re below that, below that self-sufficiency line.
and so The Atlas report in Chester County proved itself out when Covid hit just a few months later in 2020, within three weeks of the shutdown, there were people camped out in the Honey Brook Food Pantry parking lot on Tuesday for Wednesday food distribution because they were three weeks without a paycheck. And that’s when I think people realized, yeah, there’s a lot of people out there in this position. So, that has been kind of the core of our investment strategy for the last three years. And, our board just recommitted that ALICE is our target population. And so, whenever we work with nonprofits, we’re always talking about ALICE and how their programs and services serve ALICE.
And with our funding decisions, we always take that into play. The rate did go up and, you know, here in the wealthiest county in Pennsylvania, three in 10-30% of people are ALICE or below. And you know, what’s even more, not shocking, that’s probably not the right word, but, it’s every corner of the county, you know, when you look at ALICE in poverty together, I mean from out in the west in at Glen, it’s 50%.
One in two people in at Glen are, or ALICE or poverty. You know, we know. You know, Coatesville and Modena, you’re talking two thirds of the residents there. But up in Spring City, 54%, you know, in Westchester, in our county seat 54% of people are ALICE or poverty. and then you get down into some of the other areas, like out in the tip of the county in Elon, it’s more than 50%. So, a lot of people fall into this category and, you know, we’re…. so, we invest a lot of our time and effort on financial stability and that kind of pillar of our work we’ve done that through our mobile home project. We’ve done it through the VITA, Tax Assistance Program. And right here in Exton we have our United Way Financial Stability Center, which is located in the CareerLink building. It’s the only facility of its kind and a CareerLink facility in the state of Pennsylvania outta 67 counties. So we’re really proud of that, but really focused on how do we help people become financially stable and self-sufficient.
And, so thank you for asking about ALICE. It is kind of a silly acronym with a mouthful to describe what it is. But, at the end of the day, they’re the people that really need our help to keep them moving along and keep them out of financial crisis because once you fall into that, it’s really challenging to get out.
Liam Dempsey: Chris, the example you shared of Folks in the ALICE community being one charge away, one cost away. You share a car battery and while they’re not cheap, they’re not that much. It’s not like a whole car payment or a two months of rent behind. And that description, I think is particularly poignant to talk about how precarious folks in that position where they’re working every day, but the wages that they’re bringing home are not covering their costs and any kind of save three months worth of earnings for emergency way. So, thank you. Thank you for walking us through that and thank you for the work that you and your colleagues are doing.
Along those lines of unexpected costs or unpredictable costs, I wanna talk to you a little bit about the work that you and your colleagues have done to address the significant property tax issues that adversely affect mobile homeowners in Pennsylvania. Found out about this in chatting with some of your colleagues in advance of our time together today. Can you talk us through what that tax property problem was and how did the social innovation lab work to address it?
Chris Saello: Well, it’s still a problem. So, it is what it is. And, you know, we learned about it through a newspaper article in the Philadelphia inquirer about a volunteer at the Honey Brook Food Pantry. A gentleman by the name of Randy Lau, was volunteering there and he was talking to some of the clients about how did, you know, what’s keeping them from being financially stable. And they told him that, you know, they were paying these really high taxes for their mobile homes, and as he explored it, what he found is there’s actually a flaw in the state tax code. So, a mobile home is, it’s more like a car than a house, right? It doesn’t have a title or a deed. It has a title like a car, and it depreciates where a house appreciates. And so very quickly after purchasing a mobile home, it’s depreciating about 3% a year. And, suddenly you become overtaxed.
So, Randy looked into how do you fix this? And the only way to fix it is to go through the pretty lengthy, reassessment process with the county, the tax reassessment process. So he took about a dozen and a half people through and he found they were about 70% over assessed and was able to take them through.
We reached out to him ’cause we wanted to meet him. And when he educated us about the extent of this problem, there’s 3,600 mobile homes in Chester County. And, just in a six mile stretch on 322 from Route 82 out to the Honey Brook Food Pantry, there’s 1,037 mobile homes. So, we learned about it and we decided we’re gonna do something about it.
So we partnered with Legal Aid and we said we’re gonna do any reassessment that anybody that wants to take their mobile home through a reassessment, we’re gonna help them ’cause it’s some of the owning affordable housing in Chester County. So, we started this journey five years ago and the county tax office has been an incredible partner. As we were more educated about the problem, we had some recommended changes to the system to make it a little easier, and they’ve been a great partner in that. But we are very proud to say that this year we went over a thousand reassessments in the last five years, saving those mobile homeowners almost $9 million over the next 10 years that they should have never owed to begin with.
But, for that flaw in the state tax code that requires mobile homes to be taxed like a house, we are working on some public policy issues to try to get that fixed. We actually got it partially fixed a couple years ago. So if a county goes through a county-wide reassessment, they can address it, but that doesn’t fix it if, you know, many counties aren’t gonna go through a reassessment. So, in the meantime, we’re taking ’em through one at a time and Legal Aid has been just a tremendous partner. That and the paralegals in Chester County have volunteered a lot of time, going out and doing these forms and taking it through the process. And we’ve got some incredible donors who funded this program since it’s inception. So,, it’s at no cost to the mobile homeowners.
Erik Gudmundson: That’s a fantastic initiative that I think most people wouldn’t have dreamed of, yet is having a real difference on that ALICE population that’s living in mobile homes here in Chester County. So, that’s truly making a difference. So, thank you for that.
One, tricky question we have is that we know the United Way of Chester County works with a number of amazing local businesses and nonprofit organizations, but we’d like you to ask, or I’d like to ask you rather to highlight one or two that you feel should get more of a spotlight. Maybe ones that aren’t quite as well highlighted as they should if they’re doing something really incredible, really interesting that we should know about.
Chris Saello: Well, I’m not a politician, but I answer maybe a little political. I am not gonna call out one of my children as the favorite over the other, which is, you know, that there’s so many incredible nonprofits. What I am gonna call out that maybe doesn’t get the spotlight that it should is the nonprofit employees. So, you know, when Covid hit, the nonprofit sector carried this community on their backs, right? And they didn’t stop working. They didn’t stop serving, and so many of them saw the demand for their services double. And in many situations, you know, they may have had a spouse at home that lost their job, but they were in some of the same circumstances. But the nonprofit employees, many of which are ALICE, have just kept on working on behalf of this community. And I don’t think that the average person in the community understands the extent of gratitude we owe to the nonprofit employees whether they work in childcare centers or work in a food pantry, or work in a domestic violence center or a senior center. The creativity that many of them showed to be able to continue to serve the community, in many cases went unnoticed, but they did it anyway.
What I’d love to see is, I would love to see the community just shower their local nonprofit or their favorite nonprofit with gratitude. You know, stop by with, and stock their kitchen with Gatorade and candy and cookies, or, just show the employees some of that gratitude that we all have for what they did. It’s a tough time to be working in nonprofits ’cause the demand has stayed the same, but the resources, the financial resources, many of which came through a lot of federal and state funds. They’ve all dried up, but the demand is still there. And these nonprofit employees are working so incredibly hard, and they’re vital. They’re vital to the strength of our county. So I know that isn’t the answer you asked or the question you asked me, but, that’s really the unsung hero. It’s all of the nonprofit employees in the county.
Erik Gudmundson: You must hang out with a lot of politicians, Chris, because that was somewhat of a political answer, but it was really a really, really good answer and a noble answer because last time I checked, there were over 400 nonprofit organizations in the county and they’re all doing some wonderful things and they could all use our attention. So, thank you for sharing that aspect that’s important.
Liam Dempsey: Yeah. Erik, I have to say that was gonna be my response as well. Chris, that’s the most impressive political answer I’ve ever heard. It was actually heartfelt and accurate and political. Well done, sir. Well done. And I couldn’t agree with you more through some of my contacts and the like in the county, seeing what the nonprofits did, they did a lot with even less and did it with a big smile on their face knowing that everybody was really struggling. So, yeah. What a great answer. Thanks, Chris.
Erik Gudmundson: If folks are look looking to work in the nonprofit sector, they might wanna work for the United Way of Chester County. Are you hiring?
Chris Saello: We are actually, for the first time in a very long time, we are fully staffed and I have the privilege every day of working with a dream team of dedicated community, community servants and we are fully staffed. But that we we’re a volunteer driven organization, and I will say we are always looking for volunteers in many different areas, especially in, you know, in skilled labor, you know, from people that have HR experience to legal experience or technology experience. Hint, Erik, we really, you know, every dollar we can save hiring, having to hire one of those experts is money that goes right back to the community. So, if people are looking, you know, to share their time and talent, we’re always looking for that.
We also have a number of committees that are really driven by community members, whether it’s our community impact council that makes the investment decisions because it is truly community, people investing the community money. It’s not the United Way staff giving the money to our pet charities. And we’ve got a finance committee and a resource development committee and a strategic initiatives committee. So we’ve got lots of volunteer opportunities.
We’re also looking to place skilled volunteers, as well as volunteer groups at nonprofits that may need them. So, while we may not have any paid positions right now, we will pay with our gratitude for any hours people wanna send our way.
Erik Gudmundson: That’s a good status update. I wanted to go back and tie together a few things that you mentioned. The AI for Impact workshop that’s happening in, or that happened I should say, in your new building, we recently talked about AI, with Chris MacNeel, the COO of Freya Systems, that’s episode 38. And I’m curious, how did that workshop go AI for Impact and do you think you’ll see more AI used within local nonprofit organizations?
Chris Saello: Well, thanks for asking that. And I will say our Director of Leadership and Innovation, Kelly Cox Shaw, has just been incredible in identifying projects that fall under the social innovation space. You know, we saw that nonprofit sector was being left behind in the conversation a little bit as AI’s been changing the world around us on a daily basis.
And so, Kelly identified a program at Penn State University Park called AI for Good. And it’s part of their new president, Dr. Buddha Pen’s efforts to take the power of Penn State out into the community and use it for good. So, she was able to convince Penn State to partner with us and they came out a couple weeks back and it was a team from University Park and their NIAI Alliance and then 14 grad students, mostly focused in data analytics and things at Penn State Great Valley.
And then we had 10 nonprofits as part of this pilot, AI for Impact workshop. They spent the day together that started talking about things how to use data, how to collect data, the value of data. And then the nonprofits broke out into different groups and they were paired up with some of these students. And they talked about either business challenges they have or opportunities they have that they’re trying to figure out how to take advantage of. And then these students help them come up with a plan for how they could use AI to either solve that business challenge or, you know, or extend that opportunity they might have.
And they actually created a plan that day for how to implement AI. And, we know of one nonprofit to call us the next day that actually implemented their AI solution the very next day after that. So, that’s gonna be probably a cornerstone of our social innovation lab that project, and we’re really excited that Penn State was able to come step to the table on that one, but it exceeded our expectations.
And we had a really diverse group of nonprofits. So, it wasn’t one particular kind of nonprofit. We had organizations from the YMCA to volunteer English to T-mac, to youth mentoring partnership and, Orion up in Phoenixville, and so many different diverse nonprofits that all benefited from the workshop.
Liam Dempsey: Oh, I’m loving that. I am absolutely loving that. Great answer. Great, great. I’m so glad to hear that, that workshop was so valuable.
Chris, we’ve talked about workforce development, some of the challenges around supporting different folks and employers in the area, and we know that you’re on the Chester County Workforce Development Board. How does that position or your position on that board benefit both workforce development and the United Way? What does having you as the CEO and president of the United Way and on the Workforce Development Board, what’s the value there?
Chris Saello: Well, I will say from my perspective, it’s been tremendous and I’ve gotten to work with Erik and see him in a leadership role with that group.
What I think best about it for me in my role is, you know, being at the table having nonprofits represented at the table, talking about the challenges that businesses have in Chester County to attract and retain quality employees, how to and then, you know, what are some solutions that we could all be working on because we do invest a lot in workforce development, you know, as a priority area of ours. So, being in that room with so many corporate leaders, hearing of the challenges, but also being able to share some of the Programs and services that we support or that we can connect them with to help them solve some of their business solutions. So, I think it’s a great two-way street. It’s very informative for us from the United Way standpoint, but I think it’s also valuable for them in being able to learn about some of the services that could support their employees. So, it really, it’s been a beneficial relationship and we’re so appreciative that we as a nonprofit have a seat at that table.
Erik Gudmundson: I can say as a fellow board member, Chris, it’s been invaluable to hear your opinions and your perspectives, and to share. And the way that you share them with the board really helps us implement, you know, better policies and spend money and a better way to help the population in the most efficient way possible. So, thank you for your time and your role on that board.
You, if I recall correctly, you graduated from Penn State, right? So I’m curious how you go from Penn State, to this president and CEO of such an impact driven organization. Tell me how you came to find your current role?
Chris Saello: Oh, you don’t wanna get me talking about Penn State? You said this was a short podcast. I bleed blue and white. My undergraduate degrees actually in recreation and parks and, I was focused in sports, sports marketing and never felt I’d take this path. And then went on to get my master’s at Penn State Great Valley. So, I bleed blue and white, but it’s been incredible.
You know, the most incredible part, it’s a great education. And it was a great place to go to college and to grad school. But most importantly that Penn State Network is so strong in Chester County and, you know, just having that connection and knowing that I can call up corporate leaders or nonprofit leaders or individual philanthropists that have that same Penn State connection. And, they’ll take that call just to help out a fellow Penn State or that’s been incredible for me throughout my career. And I’m still tapping into that.
My College advisor is still a mentor and friend to this day. And I often lean on her for advice and feedback. Now, she’s retired, so she doesn’t like when I’m calling ’cause I’m putting her to work. But, it’s a great place to have graduated from.
And having that network and, you know, having Penn State Great Valley here in our community, they are a tremendous resource. We have a separate partnership with them on a data analytics project. We’re a capstone project for their fall data analytics class where they’re helping us create some data pipelines, you know, using different data sets that we collect through either 211 or the ALICE report, and then partnering with an additional organization called Qlik that’s creating some dashboards that we’ll make that information available to nonprofits, to the county, to whoever needs it. But, they’re just, they’re a great partner in our community and so, we appreciate them and I appreciate that I can call myself a Penn Stater.
Liam Dempsey: Well as somebody…
Chris Saello: and the football team’s not that bad either.
Liam Dempsey: As a graduate of a Big 10 school that is not Penn State. I’m gonna move the conversation on.
Chris, we’ve heard so much today about what the great work that you and your colleagues at the United Way, with the partners of the United Way of Chester County, what your volunteers are doing to support our local community. How can the community support our local United Way?
Chris Saello: You know, first and foremost, I think help amplify the message, right? We’re constantly trying to tell the story of community needs and solutions, nonprofits doing good work, helping us amplify that message so that it reaches, you know, every potential donor or volunteer whether that be through social media or, you know, through telling a neighbor or friend at a party, Hey, I volunteered for the United Way. Giving is obviously a big way to do it.
We, you know, we have a great team of community leaders and volunteers who make those investment decisions. And, you know, they put every dollar to work in a meaningful way and in an impactful way. And, you know, advocating for people like mobile homeowners for example, right? That is only gonna get fixed at the state level, right? And so, who do state legislators listen to they’re constituents.
So, you know, I heard a podcast that you had wiith Andrea Youndt who was also a former colleague of mine when I spent my time with the YMCA, you know, and Andy was talking about advocacy and food insecurity, right? And so amplifying the needs, the issues, you know, that’s the kind of stuff I think the community could do is given a little bit, right? Adopt a Child called charity. So when you’re buying your Christmas gifts this year for four kids, you know, slice off a fifth piece that goes and supports the community.
And volunteering. I mean, your time is priceless but, you know, there’s so many incredible opportunities. And it’s so fulfilling to be able to serve your community. And so we’re constantly inspired by the volunteerism that we see and, you know, we’re always happy to connect people with volunteer opportunities. So, you know, giving advocate volunteer and amplify are, I think the four ways that people can really support the United Way of Chester County.
Liam Dempsey: Well, we will put links to everything we’ve talked about over on our website, in the show notes on [startlocal.co]. So all the great organizations we’ve talked about, all the initiatives, all the programs. We will have plenty of links over at [startlocal.co]. So folks can amplify that.
Chris, thanks for your time today. Before, we wrap it up here, can you share where folks can find you online?
Chris Saello: They can find us at [unitedwinchestercounty.org], and then we’re on Facebook, we’re on Twitter, we’re on Instagram and, soon to be on TikTok. So, take a look. Hopefully have some fun with that one. But, there are all ways that you can find us.
Erik Gudmundson: Well, Chris Saello, president and CEO of the United Way of Chester County, thank you so much for spending some time with us and informing us on everything that you and the United Way are doing. We really appreciate everything that you’re doing to help our community.
Chris Saello: Well, thank you both for helping amplify our message and the message of so many other organizations. Appreciate this podcast.
Liam Dempsey: It’s our pleasure.
And thanks everybody for listening. Don’t forget to head on over to [startlocal.co] to subscribe for updates and information.
In the meantime, we will see you in two weeks time when we publish again. Thanks and have a great day.