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 Rufus Friday, a former Board Member, the former Lexington Herald-Leader president and publisher, and the current KCTCS Special Assistant to the President.
What is your current or former role?
I was a former board member of United Way of the Bluegrass. I served on the board from 2011 to 2017 and then termed out after serving multiple terms.
I was the president and publisher of the Lexington Herald-Leader from 2011 to 2018. This job consists of being in charge of the entire newspaper organization.
In my role at KCTCS, I act as an assistant to our president, and I am somewhat of a Chief Advocacy officer. I advocate for higher education funding and provide support for the president of KCTCS along with the 16 college presidents that make up the system.
What does this role include? What does a normal day look like for you?
When I was with the Herald-Leader and I was a board member, I served in the capacity of providing insight. I’ve been involved in United Ways all over the country. I’ve worked for 6 newspapers in 6 different states. In every state that I worked in as a newspaper person, I was also involved in United Way campaigns, or served on the Board of Directors for the United Way in the area. I have worked with United Ways in North Carolina, Tennessee, Illinois, Alabama, Washington State and finally here in Kentucky. I had the fortunate opportunity to serve on the Board in each state.
Over the years, United Way has really evolved to become a community solutions-based organization. This means United Way has become more involved working with communities on solutions that are tailored to the needs of the community, and what goals the community wants to accomplish.
I was in Washington State when United Way as a network made the change to becoming more of a community solutions-based organization. It was a tough term for the organization and for the community to make this shift from their traditional model. The community was so used to the annual campaign where money comes in and United Way passes the money through to other agencies. United Way wanted to find what kind of return our donors were getting from this sort of investment. That’s when they went and took a closer look by asking what partner agencies could do to become more solutions-based and focus on what the community needs. United Way also looked at how they could make sure the money they were granting to nonprofits was helping to make an impact and was being used efficiently. United Way became more of an evaluator to make sure organizations do what they are supposed to with the funds they are given, and to make sure the results are in alignment with the community’s needs.
What do you think is the most special thing about UWBG?
UWBG is such a focused organization and is extremely plugged into our community as far as the needs and issues. During my tenure as a board member, UWBG took a hard look at what they needed to do in order to help support education. Specifically, they looked at the public schools in the area that were missing the mark on student success and achievement. United Way was engaged, understood the challenges and asked how they could help.
I remember when Bill Farmer was here. He specifically talked about the year test scores came out and William Wells Brown Elementary had the lowest state test scores in all of Kentucky. Bill and I had conversations about how a school just blocks away from both of our offices needed help and discussed what we needed to do to come alongside the school, and Fayette County, to assist. United Way mobilized a group of individuals and volunteers to help students in the school. UWBG is not reactionary, they are proactive.
One thing that makes me proud of UWBG is that they don’t seek headlines, they seek solutions. This is really great. Other organizations want a headline and they want to be known. United Way of the Bluegrass has really impressed me with how they work behind the scenes to make things happen and they really don’t try to seek attention.
In your opinion, what positive change has UWBG made in the Bluegrass over the past 100 years?
I’ve only been here roughly 10 years. The biggest impacts of United Way in general, and specifically here, is that it has become more of a solution-based organization. The mission changed to looking at how United Way could come alongside the community, whether it be government, profit or not-for-profit, and to determine what would be in the best interest to help improve the quality and success of our community.
Here in the Bluegrass, United Way has done a really good job reaching into the educational side and figuring out how we can support students and K-12 education. Most importantly, United Way has found a way to reach out to individuals and families who may need some assistance and help to reach financial stability and succeed long term.
What is your favorite place in the Bluegrass?
My favorite isn’t a hidden gem, but I enjoy it - the Legacy Trail. I enjoy going to the trail and riding my bike. Working in the newspaper business is a stressful job. I was being pulled many different directions. On the weekends, I was able to slip away and ride my bike on the Legacy Trail. It was a way of relieving stress as well as being able to take in the scenery of the area. It is a really nice trail.
What is your favorite thing to do in the Bluegrass?
A lot of people don’t realize that I was used to open space when I moved here from Washington State. I found it difficult to find a place to live in Lexington, so I ended up moving and living in Richmond. I live in what is considered the county area of Richmond, on the northside. My favorite thing is sitting on the backside of the house and enjoying the scenery. My house backs up to a wooded lot and I enjoy being able to sit out there and read. I’m a voracious reader. Being able to read and enjoy the scenery is what I enjoy most.
"United Way has been able to expertly evolve into an organization that really understands the importance of bringing solutions to a community."
Thank you for being such a strong part of UWBG, Rufus! 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 firstname.lastname@example.org to share your nomination!