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Opportunity to lead recently formed United Way of NWI opened door for new CEO’s return to Midwest

Adam O’Doherty
Adam O’Doherty is the first president and CEO for the recently formed United Way of Northwest Indiana.

When he was offered the job to be the first president and CEO for the recently formed United Way of Northwest Indiana, O’Doherty couldn’t pass up the opportunity. On his first visit to the Region, O’Doherty said he immediately fell in love with the area.

He spent a few days randomly meeting with residents as well as representatives of major United Way supporters.

“I went to as many locations as I could where I could get a better picture of the true challenges facing (the Region),” O’Doherty said. “(During the time) of my final interview, one thing I learned was that the people were supportive and were open about the challenges the Region faced, (but also recognized) they weren’t impossible to overcome.”

Jeff Strack, president and CEO of Highland-based grocer Strack & Van Til, and board chair of the United Way of NWI, said O’Doherty’s energy and passion to help make communities he lives and works in a better place, made him the right choice for the Region.

“When we started the (search) process for the new CEO, we were looking for an individual (who) would be a forward-thinking and consensus-driven leader (who) would be an ambassador and relationship builder within the community,” said Strack, who also led the United Way’s CEO search committee. “(Adam) definitely meets those criteria, and we were excited to have him join the organization.”

An opportunity to again work in a collaborative environment also was a draw for O’Doherty, who wanted to return to the Midwest. He spent most of his life in Minnesota.

“People in the Midwest are more about community and have a willingness to work together,” O’Doherty said. He previously served as CEO of the United Way of Graham and Greenlee Counties in Safford, Arizona, a community in the southeastern part of the state, about two hours northeast of Tucson.

O’Doherty spent three years in Arizona. In that time, he built an environment of collaboration within the United Way.

“(Today) I think the United Way (of Graham and Greenlee Counties) is an essential part of that community,” he said. “I feel I was able to get them to work together and be more collaborative.”

What impressed him about the Region was how community leaders and residents have worked to knock down silos and recognize the benefits collaboration. This mindset will contribute to finding solutions to problems, which need addressing, he said.

O’Doherty said there is a movement within United Way to do more impactful work versus just being a community chest.

Challenges in the Region are similar to problems facing the country overall, O’Doherty said. Addressing the talent pipeline to ensure employers have the workers they need now and in the future, improving access to affordable early child care, affordable housing and transportation are some issues where O’Doherty wants the United Way of NWI to take the lead.

“The one great thing about the Region is that there are already a lot of resources and organizations working on these challenging situations,” he said. “The key will be how do we make these efforts more focused to get our partners to come up with solutions.”

The United Way of Northwest Indiana formed in fall 2021 after a merger between the Lake Area United Way and the United Way of Porter County. Services also will be extended to Starke and Newton counties and northern Jasper County.

O’Doherty said the merged organization maintained their respective offices in Griffith and Valparaiso and retained most employees. A total of 26 people work for the United Way of NWI.

O’Doherty said the dust is settling from the merger, and he looks forward to the future.

“The team building meetings we have been doing have been helpful, and I can see that everyone is beginning to gel together,” he said.

Click here to read more from the August-September 2022 issue of Northwest Indiana Business Magazine.


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