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Nora Carpenter, 2019 CEO of Influence

 Nora J. Carpenter

President & CEO • United Way of Treasure Valley

“When people say, ‘I’ll help,’ things change. My hope is that every single person will find it in them to say, ‘I’ll help.’”

Joyful opportunities

Uniting community and inspiring teams in the Treasure Valley

The United Way of Treasure Valley (UWTV) is focused on bringing community partners and resources together to promote the common good and solve big problems.

Since 2012, Nora Carpenter has been at the helm of the nonprofit organization. She led it through the after-effects of the Great Recession and has overseen major initiatives, including:

  • Fighting for more than 4,000 local students experiencing homelessness
  • Pushing for preschool education in low-income neighborhoods
  • Establishing an Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline

“It’s joyful work,” Carpenter says. “Every single day, I get to see people who are just starting out, high school students, retirees, all who just want to see their friends, their neighbors, their family members do better, be more stable and be more successful. United Way is the glue that helps this community come together, rally our resources and focus on the issues that lift whole generations.”

The path to leadership

Carpenter explains that her path to leadership has been “a series of unexpected events.” She started her career in marketing and advertising before being bitten by the nonprofit bug. First, she joined the Better Business Bureau. Next, she served at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Idaho.

“I sort of woke up one day and discovered that I was a nonprofit junkie,” she says with a smile. “I needed the spirit, I needed the mission, to drive me each and every day in my work.”

Leadership, exemplified

According to her team at UWTV, Carpenter has improved morale tremendously during her tenure and has done incredible work to engender a shared vision.

“She just changed the whole atmosphere of our office,” says Claudia LeBlanc, executive assistant at UWTV. “She was able to speak to each one of us and just hear our stories, and just wanted to know what our goals were, what we would like to do as part of this organization. She empowered each one of us to do our best.”

Robynn Brown, UWTV director of development and community engagement, has learned a great deal from Carpenter’s focus on building relationships.

Carpenter has a “true understanding that if you want to go far, go with others. If you want to go fast, go alone,” Brown says.

Limited resources, outsized passion

Juan Bravo, UWTV database engineer, says the stresses and pressures of working at UWTV are just like those at a for-profit business, but the difference comes in doing the work with a lack of resources.

“I think she’s very inspiring,” he says of Carpenter. “The passion is what compliments a lack of resources, and I see that in every one of my peers, and that’s also something that transmits and comes from our leader.”

The UWTV receives money from private donors, federal community block grants and community partners, many of which are for-profit businesses. The organization also brings together a veritable army of volunteers and works to coordinate community resources.

To see the proof in the pudding, look no further than the organization’s Boise offices.

Just off the entrance, shelves are stacked with everyday items such as diapers, hygiene kits and nonperishable food. This “basic needs pantry” came about when UWTV realized that some local children and families were doing without these basic items because they weren’t available at food pantries, LeBlanc explains.

In addition to making the pantry available to people who come into the office, the UWTV team puts together kits to be delivered to social workers in schools, who discreetly distribute them to students in need.

“These are attendance boosters,” LeBlanc said.

An Idaho girl at heart, Carpenter left Idaho for a few years during her marketing career, but she is happy to be back in the Treasure Valley. “Having grown up with the people and the culture of Idaho, that has really baked the values and the leadership capabilities, but also a little sense of wild, into my career, into my outlook on life,” she says. “I really consider my Idaho roots to be a huge part of all the decisions that I have made over the course of my lifetime.”

She draws on the community of strong women she has come to know through her work and the example of her mother, who was a drama teacher.

“Having had a mom who was just great about saying, ‘Express yourself, find yourself, speak your words, it’s OK to stand up and saying what you have to say,’ has lived with me,” Carpenter says, “and that’s a characteristic I use and draw on every single day.”

When she talks to young leaders looking to make a difference, she shares what she learned growing up.

“When you find your own truth, you stand for your own truth and you speak your own truth, you will find satisfaction in your career,” she says, “and you will excel because you will have the passion and the motivation to do the right things at the right moment.”

Helping hands

Among Carpenter’s many achievements is the Community Schools model, which “leverages local partnerships and resources to provide comprehensive support for children, their families and neighbors,” describes Ericka Rupp, program manager at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, in a letter recommending Carpenter for the CEO of Influence honor.

This work at schools is an example of not just breadth of services, but also depth of services on the individual level, Carpenter says. It brings together health care, data sharing and community outreach to provide a base of support for individuals in need.

Carpenter hopes to further these initiatives and others like them that “solve our most critical and pressing human problems.”

“I wish that every person in our community knew the incredible talent and resources that they individually hold, and knew that if they raised their hand, there’s a place for them in our community working together,” she says. “We have big sticky issues to address. We also have tremendous joyful opportunities, but it takes all of us. It is really better to live united.”

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