At United Way of the Bluegrass, we are currently celebrating our centennial year, and are highlighting 100 Heroes who have been important in our fight for the basic needs, education and financial stability of our neighbors over the past century.
We recently spoke with Yajaira Aich West, an Employee Campaign Chair (ECC) at PNC for over 12 years, a former Fayette County Board of Trustees member and the leader of the Countdown to Kindergarten initiative to learn more about her role and relationship with United Way of the Bluegrass.
What is your current or former role(s) within United Way of the Bluegrass and what does a typical day look like in the role?
As the PNC Client & Community Relations Director for the Lexington market, I lead PNC's involvement in the community by understanding the market's growth strategy and help develop events and projects to meet the market’s goals. Primarily I oversee local charitable sponsorships and PNC Foundation investments. I build relationships with various communities, non-profit organizations and diverse populations to advance PNC's position in the market. My job places me in a position to take an active role in representing PNC in the community through board memberships and speaking engagements.
Over the last 12 years, I have had the pleasure of serving on a variety of United Way of the Bluegrass (UWBG) committees. When it was active, I supported their early childhood initiative, Success by 6, served as a member of the Fayette County Board of Trustees and helped allocate mini-grants to local United Way partner agencies. Currently I serve on the Centennial Committee and am excited to help raise awareness of UWBG and plan events to celebrate the 100 years of positive impacts that our United Way has made within our communities.
A major initiative in 2021 that has brought PNC and United Way of the Bluegrass together is PNC’s support of the East End WayPoint Center in Lexington.
PNC has a long history of supporting economic empowerment efforts. Recently, PNC announced it is making a $75,000 commitment, funded by the PNC Foundation, to the WayPoint Center being established in the East End of Lexington. It was a competitive grant process and United Way of the Bluegrass rose to the top of the applicant pool. The WayPoint Center will help address systemic racism and support economic empowerment of African American residents.
I am proud that PNC is supporting WayPoint's mission of creating an access point for families and individuals, and to provide vital programming for the East End residents.
How are PNC and Countdown to Kindergarten related to United Way of the Bluegrass and how did these partnerships begin with United Way of the Bluegrass?
PNC has been part of the Fayette County Public School's First 5 Lex team since its inception. PNC and Fayette County Public Schools began working together 10 years ago to create the “Countdown to Kindergarten” program. We came together to coordinate 13 local agencies to provide free, quality and educational Summer activities for the entering class of Fayette County kindergarten students. UWBG was one of the first organizations to step up and help produce the summer activities by managing the marketing of the program. UWBG created print and digital promotional materials and helped distribute the information to the FCPS families. Countdown to Kindergarten was a true collaborative effort between many partners and the success of that program helped create the foundation for what became First 5 Lex.
If you were encouraging someone to get involved with UWBG, what would you encourage them to do throughout their time with UWBG, or what advice would you give them?
I would encourage anyone to support United Way in whatever way is meaningful to them. Whether it is a financial contribution or time volunteering at the United Way, this engagement will enrich their life, they’ll become educated about their community and be connected to people and ideas that are making positive differences. If available, I would encourage individuals to volunteer their time and skills with their local United Way organization or one of their partner agencies. I feel as if volunteering and giving back have a positive effect on our mental and physical health. There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer together as groups or individually. A call to the 211 Contact Center could help you determine the right volunteer opportunity for yourself. Helping my community has provided many opportunities to grow as a person, both personally and professionally.
How has United Way changed your life or how have you seen UWBG change the lives of others?
Volunteering for the United Way has provided me with many new opportunities to learn but also expand my network. I appreciate United Way taking the time to research and learn about a diverse set of nonprofit organizations providing services within our community. The United Way takes a deep dive into the mission, financials and organization of many of our local nonprofits. This research is used to make their financial allocations to local programs and partner agencies. Whether it is financial or personal time, individuals and corporations will have a high return on their investment into the United Way.
I get to know many nonprofits and the financial support they receive from UWBG is significant. UWBG provides investments into the backbone of organizations and therefore are helping these agencies be sustainable now and in their futures. Funding from the UWBG has helped single parents prepare for job interviews and have quality respite childcare, teach first time homebuyers budgeting and create savings plans, help build affordable housing and more. Our UWBG is helping generations succeed by its investments into impactful programs and organizations.
If you were trying to convince someone to move to the Bluegrass area, how would you convince them?
I love Lexington! I would try to explain that Lexington is welcoming, but try to show them as soon as possible by sharing with them the beautiful sights of our city and our surrounding counties. Individuals from all walks of life, ages, races, and professional backgrounds are all welcome in our glorious city. There is a thriving arts scene, miles of walking/biking/hiking trails, delicious locally made food and drink, and reasonably priced entertainment for everyone. It is hard for me to narrow down the ideas of things to do when friends and family visit. Our convention and visitor’s bureau, VisitLex, has created itineraries of things to do in and around the Bluegrass region. I will sometimes look at these ideas, go and explore something new within the area and fall deeper in love with the Bluegrass Region. It is my home and I don’t plan on leaving.
What is your favorite place and thing to do in the Bluegrass area?
My favorite place and thing to do in the Bluegrass depends on who I am with at the time. If it was a family day in the summer, we are going to the Children's Garden at the UK Arboretum, followed by ice cream at locally owned Crank and Boom and end the evening with some swimming. If I am out with my friends, you will probably find us at a fundraiser for a local nonprofit because I hang out with very charitable and likeminded folks. Any money we spend is for a good cause, so we all win!
Thank you for being such a strong part of UWBG, Yajaira! We appreciate you and all that you've done and continue to do.
To learn more about how we are continuing to serve the Bluegrass in 2021, click here.
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!