United Way of Greater Knoxville (UWGK) held its inaugural Champions of Change Breakfast on May 1 to celebrate the important work made possible by the generosity of local and regional companies. 

Matt Ryerson, President and CEO of UWGK, opened the event by thanking all in attendance at the Cherokee Country Club for the generous contributions they make toward the transformative projects UWGK proudly supports.

 “From expanding educational programs to ensuring that our neighbors have access to essential services, each achievement is a testament to the strength of our united efforts,” said Ryerson. “Donors, volunteers, community leaders and partners – each one of you plays an irreplaceable role in our work.”

Angela F. Williams, President and CEO of United Way Worldwide (UWW), delivered a keynote address focused on building thriving communities. With more than three decades of leadership experience in the nonprofit and corporate sectors, Williams shared invaluable insights for how collaboration across local organizations can create meaningful impact across generations.

“Our vision,” Williams said, “is to see a world where every person in every community is thriving. As an organization, you can’t do everything, but there are some things that you can do well, and when you lean in and focus on them, you become a beacon of light.”

From healthcare to economic mobility and food insecurity, Williams discussed how the United Way is uniquely positioned to boost communities suffering from intersecting crises all over the United States and all 37 countries the organization operates in.

“Communities face very similar challenges,” Williams added, “and so my hope is that we are able to package up the solutions you all are developing in Knoxville and display them across our network for the benefit of communities across boundaries and across waters.”

Williams led a historic career in roles as diverse as Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Chief Administration Officer at YMCA of the USA, Inter-Faith Liaison for the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, and Prosecutor on the DOJ Civil Rights Division’s National Church Arson Task Force. Most recently, Williams served as the President and CEO of Easterseals before departing to lead the UWW, a global network serving 48 million people each year.

Launching UWGK’s 2024 Campaign

The Champions of Change Breakfast officially kicked off UWGK’s 2024 Campaign Year, with Campaign Chairs Lee Ann and John Tolsma excited to continue driving positive change as leaders and philanthropists in the community.

In a forward-looking fireside chat, John Tolsma, Founder and CEO of Knowledge Launch, talked with Williams about the future of the United Way. Williams shared how the organization and nonprofit sector in general can better incorporate technological innovations and collaborate with corporate partners.

As the newly announced 2024 Campaign Year co-chairs, the Tolsmas addressed the audience directly. “Lee Ann and I are deeply committed to this cause,” said John Tolsma. “As I look at what United Way is doing across our community, what stands out to me is the model they’ve created where the nonprofits that we all care about are syncing up more than ever–they’re asking big questions on how to partner together. As Champions of Change, your involvement is crucial.”

“We are passionate about making our community the best place to live,” said Lee Ann Tolsma, President and CEO of Furrow Automotive, “so that future generations will continue to engage, grow and work here. It takes all of us to build a better Knoxville.”

Click here to learn more about becoming a champion for change in Knoxville.