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United Way inspires, assists through service programs
PTP lunch
United Way of the Coastal Empire CEO Deb Thompson speaks to Liberty County Chamber of Commerce members at a Progress Through People luncheon in mid-November. - photo by Denise Etheridge

The United Way of the Coastal Empire had its moment to shine at the November Progress Through People luncheon, hosted by the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce and CVB. United Way CEO Deb Thompson and United Way Area Director Jennifer Darsey spoke to a small group in attendance about the mission and local programs that the United Way provides to the community.

Thompson is the newest CEO of United Way, taking over the position when previous CEO Gregg Schroeder retired after 33 years of service, according to United Way of the Coastal Empire’s website.

“United Way had never selected a local candidate before,” Thompson said. “Nearly 85 percent of previous heads were selected from inside United Way.”

Thompson served as WSAV-TV’s general sales manager, vice-president and general manager from 2009-2016. After so many years in the business, Thompson said, she desired a career change where she could make more of a personal impact in the community.

“Leaving WSAV was a step of faith,” Thompson said. “I wanted to make a more personal impact.”

Thompson moved from WSAV in 2016 to serve as the chief business development officer with Senior Citizens, Inc. Thompson continued, saying that the first-hand experience gave her perspective needed to serve as the UWCE president and CEO.

“In hindsight, I see now how my previous jobs prepared me,” she said. “I am humbled by the selflessness and generosity of the community, and the volunteers that work tirelessly. They show incredible dedication.”

Thompson introduced Darsey, who outlined the details and programs happening here in Liberty County. United Way works to assess the education, health and income of a community to identify the community needs to fund and create long-term programs, Darsey said. 

“An identified need in Liberty County were hungry children,” Darsey said. “So we created the Backpack Buddy Program.”

The program feeds kids on the weekends, she continued. Currently, they serve 525 students in the Liberty County School System. The program helps to provide two nutritious meals and snacks to the kids with weekend food insecurities. An average of $76 per child, per year makes sure every child in the program gets a meal, Darsey said. With the generosity of the Landings Military Family Relief Fund, the UWCE is actively pursuing to expand onto Fort Stewart, Darsey added.

The UWCE, Darsey said, funds or supports 92 programs and 58 non-profits in Bryan, Chatham, Effingham and Liberty counties. Darsey called it a “bank of human services.”

According to the UWCE website, the Solider Food Voucher program serves active duty soldiers, their families and retirees with emergency commissary food vouchers to alleviate food insecurity within the household.

“This program never runs out of funding,” Darsey said. “In 2018, we served 253 individuals through the program.”

This is only one of many programs UWCE provides to the communities it serves, Darsey concluded. There are plenty of ways to serve, either through tax-deductible donations or volunteering. Visit for more information.

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