It’s rare that a job opportunity is so compelling that you come out of retirement for it. But that’s what Alana Sweeny did for the chance to lead United Way of Westchester and Putnam (UWWP).
“I was happily retired for all of two months” when the opportunity arose, Sweeny recalls. Her husband rightly predicted that she wouldn’t be able to sit idle.
The role made sense given Sweeny’s background: She’s a former teacher and administrator, was executive director of the New York State Council on Children and Families, and led the Police Athletic League for three years. As a result, Sweeny had the chops and know-how to truly make the nonprofit thrive.
Since stepping into the position of President & CEO in 2014, Sweeny has been busy. Among her first tasks: “I quickly realized we needed to take a good, hard look at the lack of education as the root cause of poverty,” she explains.
“I quickly realized we needed to take a good, hard look at the lack of education as the root cause of poverty.”
Specifically, Sweeny has sharpened the organization’s focus on third-grade reading. Why? “[It’s] a keystone indicator of future success,” she explains. UWWP is part of a $15M federal grant to bolster the reading curriculum in Westchester schools.
Sweeney is also enhancing 2-1-1, the United Way program that serves seven Hudson Valley counties by providing help and referrals on everything from taxes to healthcare. “One of the challenges is, only 25 percent of people know it exists,” Sweeny says.
Another initiative? Sweeny promotes the nonprofit’s Women’s Leadership Council, a convening of professional women who donate time to causes like early education and career development. “It’s an exciting group to be a part of,” Sweeny says.