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May 5, 2008
Focus: Successful Children and Youth
Pat Sweet became an Alexis de Tocqueville Society member because it “made sense” to her, as she has always had a passion for giving.
“I care about what happens to the future of our world,” said Pat. “I don’t think we can tolerate a society in which there are people who are not given the chance to be fully included. If we [Connecticut] continue to have the largest achievement gap in the country, in 10-15 years the price for that will be huge. If things do not change, in that short amount of time we will have already kept a huge percentage of the population out of the workforce.”
Pat began working on projects with the United Way over twenty years ago when she was president of the Waterbury Foundation. She later continued her involvement as Senior Vice President responsible for the corporate communications of Centerbank, now part of Wachovia. In her position, she appointed the campaign coordinator for her workplace and guided decisions about corporate gifts for the bank. Pat continued her volunteer work by serving on United Way of Greater New Haven Board of Directors for six years. She has also served on various committees at United Way throughout the years.
Pat is so dedicated to her community, that she decided to leave her successful career at the Regional Water Authority, not to retire, but to become the Director of External Relations at Achievement First in New Haven Connecticut, a nonprofit organization that aims to bring to scale the dramatic, life-changing student achievement results produced at Amistad by creating a school system of achievement-gap closing charter schools in New York and Connecticut.
While working at the Regional Water Authority, Pat was responsible for organizing the donation of a large fountain to beautify the New Haven Green. As a leader and a dedicated volunteer, Pat urges others to reach out to the community. Recognizing that some people are not in the position to donate a significant amount of time to volunteering, she asks that young people put pressure on their corporate leaders to incorporate volunteerism and social responsibility into company practices.
Through her various volunteer experiences, Pat has been influenced to dramatically increase her level of giving. Particularly, she loves the idea of family philanthropy. She said, “I think it is important and very meaningful when families are engaged in philanthropic causes together and promote a giving spirit amongst one another. I would urge every young person to think about including such a philosophy in their households.”
Pat concluded, “I think that as a society we should look at our assets and incorporate a giving standard into our lives.”
It is in the spirit of Alexis de Tocqueville that the United Way of America created the United Way Tocqueville Society in 1984. Tocqueville was only 26 years old when he traveled all over the United States in 1831. One of his most important observations was that Americans hold in common a unique willingness to work for the public welfare- a tendency to lend faithful support to neighbors and countrymen, especially in times of need. Today, the Society is one of the world’s most prestigious institutions for individuals who are passionate about improving peoples’ lives and strengthening communities. Membership to the society is granted to individuals who contribute at least $10,000 annually to the United Way.
Patricia B. Sweet
Pat Sweet is the Director of External Relations at Achievement First (AF) in New Haven Connecticut. AF is a charter school management organization started in 2003 by the leaders of Amistad Academy, a high performing charter school in New Haven. As a nonprofit organization AF aims to bring to scale the dramatic, life-changing student achievement results produced at Amistad by creating a school system of achievement-gap closing charter schools in New York and Connecticut.
“Working at AF has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. This organization is reaching out to some of the poorest people in our community and helping them to gain access to high-quality education. You cannot change people’s lives without giving them access to an education. I’ve been blessed to have had access and support in gaining a wonderful education and I think that every person deserves that same opportunity.”—Pat Sweet
How did you first get involved with United Way?
I began my relationship with United Way over 10 years ago when I worked at Center Bank [a branch of Wachovia]. I was a workplace campaign coordinator which meant that I was the one who organized fundraising efforts at the Bank for United Way. However, because I was responsible for the Bank’s visioning project,[ through which the company tried to figure out what people in the community wanted from a bank] it was natural that I was in communication with United Way in this capacity as well. United Way is very knowledgeable about community needs so professionally the organization was a great resource to me.
What inspired you to become a Tocqueville Society member?
Mainly, because it made and still makes sense to me.
What piece of advice would you share with young people today about philanthropy?
I would urge every young person to set aside some amount of money in their budget to help meet community needs. No matter how small the amount, people should be engaged in solving problems. Volunteer work can sometimes be tricky if you are not in a leadership position because you are not always allowed to take time off to volunteer and are sometimes too tied up with building a career at the start of your professional life to devote a significant amount of time to volunteer work. So, leaving room in your budget for philanthropy is an easy way to incorporate it into your life if you don’t necessarily have a lot of time to spare. However, that being said, I do think that it is important to give your time as well as money so I would also urge young people to pressure their corporate leaders about incorporating volunteerism and social responsibility into company practices. I also love the idea of family philanthropy. I think it’s important and very meaningful when families are engaged in philanthropic causes together and promote a giving spirit amongst one another. I would urge every young person to think about including such a philosophy in their households.
Please share your most important volunteer experience.
It’s hard to choose but one that does stand out in my mind is my experience as a member of the Choate Rosemary Hall High School Board. This experience showed me just how effective a board of directors can be, especially when the staff is in communication with and on the same page as members. Through my experience there I saw the ways in which boards could be huge assets in terms of strategic planning. I think another reason that this particular activity has been so rewarding to me is because of all of the board members’ strong commitment to the school and the meetings. At Choate, the Board is comprised of people from around the world, we meet for two days every seven or eight weeks and have a 95% attendance rate at each meeting. The way in which this board organizes is extremely effective as well. Small task forces are assembled to study and deal with specific issues. I’ve found that this technique is a great way of using the members’ talents and it also speeds up our processes.
How have your volunteer experiences influenced your giving?
They’ve led me to dramatically increase my level of giving.
What motivates you to continue to support charitable causes with your time, talent and money?
I care about what happens to the future of our world. I don’t think we can tolerate a society in which there are people who are not given the chance to be fully included. If we [Connecticut] continue to have the largest achievement gap in the country, in 10-15 years the price for that will be huge. If things do not change, in that short amount of time we will have already kept a huge percentage of the population out of the workforce.
Do you have any additional comments?
Something that has really stayed with me I heard in a commencement speech given by Paine Webber’s CEO. In this speech he encouraged all graduates to give away 5% of their budgets to philanthropic causes. I love this idea. I think that as a society we should look at our assets and incorporate a giving standard into our lives.
Additional Email comments
I actually was not the workplace campaign coordinator for the United Way. I was a Senior Vice President responsible for the Corporate Communications Division which managed all the corporate giving for the bank. As such, I appointed the in-house United Way campaign coordinator and guided the decisions about the corporate gift for the bank, which had a presence throughout all of central and south central Connecticut..
Centerbank (please note spelling) was the second largest bank in Connecticut. It is not a branch of Wachovia. In 1996 it was merged with First Union which ultimately merged into Wachovia.
So the best way to describe Centerbank would be to say Centerbank, now part of Wachovia.
My relationship with United Way goes back over 20 years, when I was president of the Waterbury Foundation and we did joint projects together.
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