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Beaver County Times: Mike Rubino to lead United Way

Mike Rubino couldn’t have picked a busier month to start a job with United Way of Beaver County.

Photo by Lucy Schaly.
Photo by Lucy Schaly.

Two of its biggest events — the annual fundraising campaign and largest volunteer project — occur almost back-to-back in September, and as new executive director, he’s responsible for managing both.

Rubino, though, appears remarkably composed and confident.

He’s more than capable of handling the leadership role, with more than 30 years in business, fundraising and community relations experience.

Most recently, he was executive director for advancement at Quigley Catholic High School, his alma mater, where during his eight-year tenure, he increased development funds more than 300 percent.

He started his own computer business in 1981, and then went to work for WQED in 1998 as senior executive in fundraising and sales, working for the multimedia corporation’s television, radio and magazine properties.

By chance — though the 55-year-old Rubino now thinks it was a calling — he saw the United Way job posting in a newspaper classified ad.

Normally, he doesn’t read Sunday classifieds, and wasn’t searching for a new position, but after seeing the notice, he called friend and colleague Bruce Simmeth, curious as to what was up.

Simmeth said he was retiring Aug. 29 after 23 years as executive director. He encouraged Rubino to apply.

Rubino declined, telling Simmeth he loved Quigley. But Simmeth persisted.

Rubino debated, he prayed, and on the very last day resumes were being accepted, submitted his.

“Let’s see what happens,” he said.

Rubino met once with Simmeth, twice with the board of directors, was hired and now is in his sixth week on the job.

“I felt it was a calling to help more people, to help all types of people,” Rubino said.

He’s come to the right place.

United Way of Beaver County is the primary fundraising arm for 17 nonprofit member agencies — from the Beaver County Association for the Blind to the Women’s Center of Beaver County — and monetary support continues to be critical.

Though there are signs that the country is rebounding from the economic recession that hit in 2008, western Pennsylvania has been slower to recover.

In its 2012 report, “Understanding Trends in Poverty in the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area,” the Urban League said Beaver County “had the biggest relative increase in its poor population. The number of people in poverty in Beaver County grew by 29 percent between 2000 and 2010.”

Children have been impacted, too.

“The number of children in poverty grew by 31 percent during the decade, reaching nearly 7,200 children by 2010,” according to the Urban League report.

Not surprisingly, smaller nonprofits have had more difficulty generating revenue, and “providers in Beaver County have been particularly hard hit,” the report said, with about three-quarters of those organizations seeing an increase in the number of people seeking assistance.

Unemployment is another factor. As of June, Beaver County’s unemployment rate was 6.5 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Rubino, though, is undaunted and has set three goals for himself: Raising awareness of the United Way in Beaver County; continuing to raise funds; and marketing.

“This is the busiest time of year for us,” Rubino acknowledged, but because of his extensive business contacts locally, he said he was able to “hit the ground running.”

As eager as he is to get started, his colleagues remind him, he said, that fundraising is a “marathon; it’s not a sprint.”

His first lap, so to speak, is Wednesday’s annual “Day of Caring,” in which nearly 100 individuals will take a day off from work to volunteer at nonprofit organizations in the county, where they will assist with painting, carpentry, masonry, yard work and washing windows, for example.

Stella Polletta, finance allocation director, said “Day of Caring” has been operating in Beaver County for at least 24 years and has been an immense help to member agencies.

The volunteers’ skills, she said, are “phenomenal.”

“We have to show how we are part of the community, not just donations of dollars, but donations of time,” Rubino said. And to convince people that they are not just donating dollars, but they are “giving because they want to make a difference.”

Rubino wants to position the United Way as an entity that helps its community and to highlight how community dollars help in return.

For example, The Arc of Beaver County uses part of its United Way dollars to provide a camping and respite program for developmentally disabled and multiple handicapped children and adults.

United Way funds help the Beaver County Association for the Blind provide vision screening for children and adults, low-cost glasses, transportation and assistive technology.

The Beaver County Cancer & Heart Association uses some of its portion to help clients buy nutritional supplements at 40 percent less than retail price, and it offers health screenings and cancer awareness programs as well.

Rubino knows his biggest task will be the annual fundraising campaign.

The Beaver County Commissioners have designated next week as “United Way Week,” and representatives from area businesses, schools and government will launch it with a breakfast on Sept. 18 at St. Frances Cabrini Parish social hall in Center Township.

Though the United Way board has yet to approve it, Rubino expects this year’s goal to be “around $700,000.”

That’s $50,000 less than last year’s, and the campaign was off target by 10 percent, Rubino said.

Plenty of factors came into play, business closings and job losses topping the list.

And that’s where his marketing skills will come to the fore to persuade companies and their employees to dig deeper.

He’s been meeting with area business leaders and their employee campaign managers to create more incentives — such as dress-down days or premium parking spots — to encourage people to donate through workplace payroll deduction plans.

Some companies have already started their in-house campaigns, Rubino said, naming FirstEnergy Corp., Keystone Profiles, Team Fishel and the Blackhawk School District.

And he realizes he’ll have to find new sources of funding — new businesses or perhaps retirees who no longer are part of payroll deduction plans, but may still want to donate.

“I think we’ll be OK,” he said.

Rubino stressed that United Way permits donors to target contributions to member agencies or other area nonprofits of their choice. And all money raised in Beaver County stays in Beaver County.

“I’m glad the board has given me their blessing to think outside of the box and bring new ideas that can enhance what’s been done for 55 years,” he said.

Until two weeks ago, United Way of Beaver County didn’t have a website, something Rubino facilitated. Next up is Facebook.

He’s already thinking ahead to next year, brainstorming the idea of making the kickoff event open to the public with possibly a 5K run. And maybe getting high school students involved in community service projects affiliated with United Way.

“There’s a lot to be done. I don’t think I’ll be resting in my chair too much in my office.”

Story by Marsha Keefer.  Story and photo courtesy of the Beaver County Times.  Used with Permission.