HANCOCK COUNTY — Jeannie Roberts can’t help but get a little emotional when looking back at the near-quarter century she served with the United Way of Central Indiana.
Throughout that time, the Greenfield woman led and promoted a variety of programs to help people throughout Hancock County.
Her co-workers threw her a retirement party at the downtown Indianapolis offices on June 29 — one last hurrah before she sailed into retirement last week.
October would have marked her 24th anniversary with the United Way, a global nonprofit focused on improving lives “by mobilizing the caring power of communities around the world.”
Roberts, 65, who most recently served in communications, never set out to work in the nonprofit sector.
A former first-grade teacher in the Noblesville schools, she took some time off to raise her kids. It was during that time she got involved volunteering through the schools, which led to her serving on the United Way’s local Youth as Resources board starting in 1999.
“I morphed from the county coordinator for Youth as Resources into the Hancock County volunteer engagement coordinator, which led to many other roles,” she said.
When the United Way restructured and disbanded its local regional office in 2018, Roberts continued to work part-time at the downtown Indianapolis office while coordinating programs close to home in Hancock County, like the annual community volunteer fair and Backpack Attack, which provides backpacks stuffed with school supplies to students in need.
She also worked extensively with the annual Day of Caring event that paired local corporate volunteers with local nonprofits, and the ReadUp tutor program in the Greenfield-Central schools.
“Twenty-four years brings lots of fond memories with it,” said Roberts, who found the hands-on work most rewarding.
“I absolutely loved doing the volunteer fair and connecting volunteers with the nonprofits who needed assistance in their work in the community,” she said.
Youth as Resources — which teaches young people to assess local needs and seek out grants to fill them — is among the many United Way programs she said will also always be near and dear to her heart.
“It was incredibly exciting to see the youth go through all the steps in making their community better,” said Roberts, a mother of three and grandmother of five.
She still hears from former program members even today, and has written numerous letters of recommendations for those seeking jobs and scholarships after high school.
“Watching those students grow into adults who have a passion for their community has been so rewarding,” she said.
Roberts also coordinated the United Way’s summer meals program in connection with Gleaners Food Bank, which provided hot meals for local kids five days a week.
“I had to recruit some 40 volunteers a week, but it was amazing to know that we were able to supplement meals (the kids) might not otherwise have had,” she said.
Her volunteer experience started far before her time with the United Way. She has been a classroom tutor, a member of Tri Kappa and has served on the Hancock County Public Library board.
She also served as volunteer piano accompanist for Greenfield Central Junior High School students in solo and ensemble contests.
“My original plan in life was to be a music teacher, so that kind of fulfilled that dream for me,” she said.
Roberts also served as Greenfield-Central “football mom,” making pre-game meals for the team when her youngest son played for the high school.
“That was a lot of work but a lot of fun,” said Roberts, whose children are now in their 30s.
She never regretted the decision to move her young family to Greenfield nearly 40 years ago.
“I just wanted that small-town feel for our kids, more like the area I grew up in Plymouth,” said Roberts, who lives in a 117-year-old Arts & Crafts-style home in downtown Greenfield.
With her busy career days now behind her, she’s looking forward to doing some traveling with her husband, Rick, who plans to retire in August.
“We’ll have a lot of free time to travel more and spend more time with the grandbabies and just take life at a little bit slower pace,” she said. “We were recently able to take a bucket list trip to Ireland that was long delayed by COVID, so I think the travel bug may just continue to get us. We have a few other places near and far we want to experience.”
No matter how far she may roam, Roberts said she’ll never forget the amazing experiences and connections she made during her time with the United Way.
“I am so grateful I have had the opportunity to connect with all the amazing organizations here in Hancock County and the people who do all the work to provide support and encouragement for those neighbors in need here,” she said.
“When I look back it just feels good to have done that work, and it makes my heart very happy to know that I have had some small part in making this community a little better place.”