United Way of Long Island President and CEO Theresa Regnante: Leading The Way

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United Way of Long Island President and CEO Theresa Regnante is a local philanthropic powerhouse.

Theresa Regnante is President and CEO of United Way of Long Island, the region’s largest philanthropic organization, which works with more than 100 community partners to support education, health care, career training, and housing needs of thousands of people in Nassau and Suffolk counties. She first worked for United Way of Long Island in 1986, leaving in 2003 to take a position with the EAC Network. She returned to United Way in 2009, as President and CEO. She was raised in West Islip and graduated from High Point University in North Carolina.

How do you approach companies and individuals for donations in this age of Twitter and everything digital? It has becoming increasingly difficult in the age of technology to gain support where we do not have easy access to direct interface. The best way for us to steward our donors is by meeting with people one-on-one and discussing United Way’s impact.

What has been the biggest change? Twenty years ago, our revenue stream was dominated by large companies. Since then, Long Island’s corporate and economic landscape has changed so our fundraising strategy has also changed. Today we obtain grants from federal and state government and foundations, and we receive gifts from high net-worth individuals. While we have enhanced our revenue portfolio, we still rely on loyal individuals in the workplace to support United Way.

Then you are still growing? Today, our budget is around $18 million. Ten years ago, our budget was $15 million.

Have you been impacted by President Trump’s tax overhaul? It’s difficult to measure if the change in the tax status has impacted our organization. Regardless of who is leading the country, we must raise the revenue needed to impact results.

Can you talk about the $1.1 million federal grant you were recently awarded to help operate YouthBuild in Hempstead? YouthBuild is a program for men and women ages 18 to 24 to work toward their TASC High School Equivalency Diploma, while earning essential job skills. Graduates are placed in career apprenticeships or a college degree program. There are more than 200 YouthBuild programs nationwide and, in 2018, United Way of Long Island was one of 81 recipients across 32 states to receive a U.S. Department of Labor YouthBuild grant.

Do you think most people on Long Island are aware of the work you do? The more than 300,000 people who receive services certainly understand our impact. United Way operates programs directly, makes grants and works with community partners, so we are not easily understood. Organizations with a singular focus, like Habitat for Humanity, have a clearer understanding in the public eye.

How do you basically describe yourself to people? United Way provides and connects people to resources. We help all of our neighbors, including the unemployed and working families. We help veterans get on their feet through Mission United, we help families through times of financial difficulty with Project Warmth, Long Island’s only non governmental emergency fuel fund, we provide career training through YouthBuild and VetsBuild programs, and we provide support to more than 100 partner agencies across Long Island.

Tell us about your efforts in housing. United Way has been building homes for 20 years. For the past four years, we’ve been the Grand Winner of the U.S. Department of Energy Housing Innovation Awards in the area of Affordable Housing. We just completed our first home in partnership with the Suffolk County Landbank in East Patchogue. Our housing model is to develop homes that prioritize energy efficiency and low operating costs.

Do you plan to build more Zero Energy-Ready Homes? Our goal is to lead the nonprofit housing industry in the latest technology and detailing in order to build healthy and high-performance homes.

What’s coming up that’s important for Long Island’s needy population? The U.S. Census, which helps determine how federal funds are allocated, for health and welfare, so it is important to make sure this region is not undercounted. We’ve got to get it right or the dollars don’t come in.

Would you consider doing something else with your life? Everyday is a different journey. I am challenged by the opportunities across the region to affect positive change and use my creativity to build partnerships. It’s a position that’s very rewarding, to know that we are helping many Long Island families.