GREENFIELD — About 30 community leaders, donors and volunteers gathered at Greenfield Bank Company’s main branch Monday morning to meet the United Way of Central Indiana’s new CEO, Fred Payne.
Payne spent about an hour sharing his vision for how local nonprofits can work with the United Way to better the community.
“My commitment to you is to make sure that we are transparent about what we do and to ensure that we’re doing the best that we can to address the 7,700 people in Hancock County who are at or close to poverty in this area,” he said.
Payne was hired in July to serve as the United Way of Central Indiana’s 15th president and CEO.
Since then he’s been doing a series of meet-and-greet events throughout the agency’s service area, which includes Boone, Hamilton, Hancock, Hendricks, Marion, Morgan and Putnam counties.
Payne shared how his previous role leading the Indiana Department of Workforce Development exposed him to the level of support needed throughout the state, especially when COVID turned the world — and the workforce — upside down.
He spoke of one mother of three who didn’t have a high school degree, yet got her GED and later enrolled in college classes to create a better life for her kids.
Payne said meeting people like her motivates him to serve. “When you help people like her you don’t just help that person, you help their family, and when you help their family, you help the community. It’s sort of a chain reaction,” he said.
The new CEO likened the teamwork necessary to serve the community to the overall force of an Indy 500 race car engine, compared to the engine in a riding lawnmower.
“I like mowing my lawn because I can stand back and see a finished product, but it’s just a lawnmower. Even when I ramp it up a little I can still only go so far and so fast with that mower because I’m on it alone, and it only has so much horsepower,” he said.
“When you think about the horsepower we all have as a community — the organizations, the businesses, the education institutions — all of us working together, that’s the 500-horsepower engine of an Indy 500 car. Just think of how far we can go and how fast we can go when we work together.”
Payne shared his belief that the community can make a much stronger impact on poverty when working as a team.
“When I think about the United Way of Central Indiana in 2022 and beyond, I think about strengthening our partnerships and how we build upon it,” he said. “Over the 104 years that the United Way of Central Indiana has been around we have been that 500-horsepower engine, but we can focus in and fine tune it even more.”
A Louisiana native, Payne shared how he followed his heart to Indiana. After applying to several law schools he opted to attend Indiana University “because it just felt right.”
The same was true when he opted to remain a Hoosier even after securing a job back in his home state, after meeting his future wife on a chance encounter at a gas station on the way to work one day.
It was that same gut instinct that led him to take the lead role with the United Way of Central Indiana.
“There were no statistics, no analysis there. It felt right because I feel like I have something to add and I can help,” he said, while commending local leaders on their drive to serve Hancock County.
“This (meeting) isn’t intended to be a one and done,” he told them. “My goal and my hope is that this starts a string of communication and activities that you’ll have with me directly or with members of our team.”
He said whether the United Way can partner on any community initiative typically comes down to three questions: Does it impact poverty, is it good for the community and is it sustainable.
“If we can answer yes to those three questions on an initiative or an action that we’re thinking about, then that may very well be something we can move forward with,” he said.