Does anyone remember William Aramony?
He was 59 years old when he dated 17-year-old Lori Villasor. He wooed her with a lavishly furnished New York City apartment, spent $78,000 to chauffeur her around for one year and spent thousands more on exotic vacations. Worse than the age differential, he falsified expense records of the organization he was CEO of in order to fund his bad behavior.
Ultimately, he was convicted of 25 felony counts and sentenced to seven years in prison for diverting millions of dollars that was meant for better causes. He resigned amid the scandal in 1992 from the United Way of America.
If you do remember him and that gloomy time in the history of the organization he ran, then I wonder if it’s kept you from ever giving another dime to the United Way; probably not. That after all, would be similar to not buying a Toyota because you’re a World War II vet. It falls under the heading of “get over it.” (Although it can be difficult. I still have a real bad taste in my mouth for that Bernie Madoff prick ... but I digress.)
We live in an extremely philanthropic part of the country. People here are generous with both time and their wallet. The Bravo! Vail festival, Vail Jazz Festival and the Vail Symposium to name only a few are recipients of a lot of people’s generosity. These organizations, as wonderful as they are (and there are countless others), serve a purpose within their sole function.
Then there’s the United Way. They work for everyone. I didn’t know this until I was asked to ride along in the Jeep they sponsored in the Fourth of July Parade. I was so excited about being in a parade; it took me an hour to ask the president of United Way what they do.
I’m throwing candy bars out the window and doing my best to start a gang war among the 5-year-olds who are lined up along the parade route and then I finally got around to asking, “John Genova, can you tell me about the United Way?” He was ready (and proud I might add) to talk of their work.
“Our United Way focuses on supporting local charities who have proven themselves effective in providing services to our neighbors in need in the areas of education, financial support and health. We have a group of very hard working (volunteer) board members who conduct comprehensive assessments of qualifying agencies. This year, we interviewed and analyzed over 50 agencies in Eagle County. Criteria for receiving a grant from us included sound financial controls, low overhead expenses and, of course, programs and services that address the needs of our county residents.”
“Pass me some more candy will you, John?”
He continued, “There are so many needs and so little money to address them; we want to ensure the money we receive from our donors goes to the best of the best who help those in the most need. It’s like we’re their mutual fund of charitable giving.”
As much fun as I was having, I was listening, and after the festivities of the day were over I gathered my thought. It made me think that a long time ago, a self-serving, real bad guy without a conscience nearly destroyed a truly reputable organization.
Reputable organizations don’t die easily and the United Way of Eagle Valley is proof of that.
And now ladies and gentleman my partial, shameless plug: Live united and contribute at www.unitedwayeagle.org.
Greg Ziccardi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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