Leadership Change at United Way of Rockbridge

Holt Merchant, President of United Way of Rockbridge (UWR) Board, regrets to share with the community the news of Patte Wood’s pending retirement from her position as Executive Director. Merchant credited Wood with seeing UWR through changes and challenges during her decade-long tenure as the only paid employee. “Patte joined us when United Way had just adopted a strategic plan that extended our mission from simply funding agencies to also focus community impact on early childhood literacy and health”, said Merchant, “and we are grateful for her leadership in those efforts for the past 10 years.”

Wood reflected that, “It has been my extraordinary privilege to work with United Way of Rockbridge and the amazing non-profit organizations in our community.” During her tenure the grant process was strengthened, several programs were established within funded agencies, and UWR took on additional projects that included book drives for young readers and coordination of ‘A Day in K’ for rising kindergartners. UWR also began to work more directly with agencies to encourage collaborative efforts for better communication and impact. During this time, UWR received the generous Ellen Charske bequest, and grants continue to be made to community organizations for one-time special projects or capital improvements.

Though Wood will be missed, Merchant is pleased to announce that Lexington resident Annabelle Hoover will be joining the staff as Executive Director Designate. Hoover will begin her duties August 1st, working side by side with Wood until the end of the year. This will ensure that UWR experiences a smooth transition, an ideal solution for continuity in the organization.  “I am thrilled for the opportunity to work with such a lovely, giving community. One of my main goals in moving to Lexington was to connect and contribute to community. I’m very happy to be in a position to truly make that come to life,” said Hoover.

Hoover spent most of her life in the Pacific Northwest, where she graduated from the University of Washington with a major in creative writing. Her husband’s position at W&L brought the family across the country to Lexington. She spent much of her career in the running and outdoor industries, working to improve supply chain, operations and customer service at Brooks Running and Outdoor Research.

UWR recently adopted a new strategic plan after a year-long process that included conducting community surveys and collaborating with local stakeholders during a virtual strategic planning retreat. Major features of the new plan include increased fundraising goals to better support area nonprofits, finding new ways to support nonprofits such as educational opportunities, and addressing the changing needs and challenges within our community.  Wood reflected, “With the advent of a new strategic plan, I feel now is the time for me to step down and retire.  I will be leaving UWR in good hands with Annabelle’s leadership who will work to meet those new goals.”

An additional focus for UWR within the new strategic plan is membership in the ALICE Project.  “ALICE” stands for “asset limited income constrained” and is a national United Way initiative to educate about the need to provide services and resources for those households who are fully employed and earn above the poverty line, but still struggle to make ends meet. A significant portion of UWR’s local population falls into that category and UWR will be focused this Fall on educational outreach about ALICE. 

Merchant believes that Hoover will bring a new energy level to UWR and Hoover is excited to put her corporate experience to work for a nonprofit agency. She had the unanimous support of the UWR board, whose members dedicate hundreds of hours each year to support the work of the agency, which has traditionally had only one paid staff member. Merchant explained, “In the last few years, our board has become younger, more energetic, and more diverse. We are well-situated to implement our new strategic plan and look forward to doing even more to support those in need in Lexington, Rockbridge County, and Buena Vista.”