Over the course of 2021, we will feature 100 Heroes who have been instrumental in our fight for the basic needs, education and financial stability of our neighbors for the past century. To learn more about how we are continuing to serve the Bluegrass in 2021, click here.
Today we are interviewing Bill Farmer, past president and CEO of UWBG.
How does UWBG serve people in the Bluegrass?
Due to my unique set of circumstances, I am probably one of few people who have worked for 2 centennial companies. Time-Warner, an iteration of Time, which will be 100 years old in 2 years and United Way of the Bluegrass. Two organizations that have been around for at least 100 years. I tried to determine whether or not there was a symbiotic relationship between Time and United Way and their 100 years. I found some interesting similarities.
How does United Way serve people in the Bluegrass? From my perspective, it provides leadership, an understanding of issues and concerns for the community that fit United Way’s mission. If an organization has been in place for 100 years, there has to be a basic understanding of issues and concerns, but also the flexibility to address current concerns. Concerns from 100 years ago are not the same as concerns today.
What do you think is the most special thing about UWBG?
I think the most important thing is that UWBG has purpose and values that align with the community. We have relationships, obligations and responsibilities to investors, influencers, people in need, contributors and donors. I think our ability to provide purpose and values that align with the community is absolutely the most essential thing we provide at United Way.
In your opinion, what positive change has UWBG made in the Bluegrass over the past 100 years?
I think smart change is the most positive change UWBG has made in the Bluegrass region over the past 100 years. You can’t exist for 100 years if you’re not responsive to the needs of the community. In this specific area, smart change is beyond the focus of tradition and core strengths. Change is inevitable and evolving. Perhaps one of the most important things is the practice of careful innovation to be part of a community for 100 years. Careful innovation is absolutely critical.
What is your favorite UWBG memory?
I have many memories. United Way had a program called Back on Track where we encouraged people to save money in a matched savings program. With that, you could use the money for a down payment or closing cost for a home, to open a business or to return to school. It was important to visit one of the homes of a Back on Track client who was able to save on the down payment and purchase a home. One of the more interesting events was when one of our Back on Track clients purchased a food truck and we had lunch at his food truck.
Another special event was being able to see hundreds of volunteers in action at various schools through the Big Bold Goal program. A couple of years ago all the major TV networks in Lexington hosted a preemptive program to talk about UWBG and the Big Bold Goal. There are 1,300 United Way organizations across the country and only 2 have had primetime TV interrupted across all networks. Not only did this happen once, but it happened twice in Central Kentucky! I think that was absolutely extraordinary and such a unique partnership with local media.
Another great local initiative that UWBG supported is the Black Males Working (BMW) program at First Baptist Church Bracktown where young men of color take some of the most difficult academic courses in Fayette County. Those involved in the program can take STEM classes, and United Way provided them with the support to attend the classes and courses. Being able to be around young men as they are learning and preparing for their future is important.
What’s your favorite place in the Bluegrass?
My favorite place in the Bluegrass is Keeneland because of the races and the vista - it is a very special place for me. It actually was the place of my final interview for the job at UWBG.
My second favorite place is the University of Kentucky campus. It’s ironic considering I’m a UNC Chapel Hill grad. I always thought it was important for my friends in Lexington to talk about UK and UNC Chapel Hill basketball. I spent a lot of time on the UK campus talking with professors and students about United Way’s work and how we could engage more people in the community to work together to help solve more issues and concerns.
What’s your favorite thing to do in the Bluegrass?
I’ve lived in a lot of different places around the country. My wife and I have expanded our definition of the Bluegrass to larger than just the counties that are typically considered the “Bluegrass region.” We include Louisville and Cincinnati. The #1 thing we have enjoyed is going to concerts. Some of the concerts had artists that were not physically located in Lexington, but they were close enough that within an hour or so you could make it to the concert. Attending these concerts has been one of our favorite things to do.
"The Bluegrass Region has tremendous intellectual capital. It is one of the best and smartest places in America to live."
Thank you for being such a strong part of UWBG, Bill! We appreciate you and all that you've done.
Do you know someone who has worked alongside United Way of the Bluegrass in the past century who should be considered for our 100 Heroes series? Please email us at email@example.com to share your nomination!