United Way of Southern Nevada Celebrates Its 65th Anniversary

OTS chats with the non-profit’s first LGBTQ+, Black CEO and President Julian High

This year United Way of Southern Nevada (UWSN)—a non-profit organization on a mission to “create a better community for all”—celebrates its 65th anniversary. From aiding locals during the pandemic to providing resources amid the inflation, the charitable institution aims to supply Nevadans with the means for success. Donations to UWSN help provide food, shelter, utility support, educational programs among other resources to underserved individuals in the valley.

This is crucial considering that 81 percent of low income renter households in Nevada are facing significant financial hardship. The non-profit focuses on making an impact on student achievement, career planning and civic engagement. To put this into perspective, UWSN provides support for one in four people in Southern Nevada.

Julian High, CEO and president of United Way of Southern Nevada (UWSN), is the first Black and LGBTQ+ leader since its inception in 1957. For this Las Vegas native, taking this position at UWSN was more than a result of hard work; To him, it was “a divine providence.” UWSN’s president chats with Off The Strip about his high school days, his organizational goals and how it feels working with a non-profit coming up on its 65th anniversary.

How did it feel to return to your hometown and take on the role as CEO and President of United Way of Southern Nevada (UWSN)?

After spending many years on the East Coast, my husband and I wanted to return to my hometown to make a difference in the lives of southern Nevadans who were integral in shaping who I have become today. I wanted to be in Las Vegas because I wanted to come back and give something to the community that means so much to me. When I discovered that the opportunity to lead such an incredible organization was available, I felt it was divine providence that I come back to be a part of such an amazing team and community of people, including nonprofit leaders and philanthropists, who truly embody the caring spirit of Las Vegas.

How do you think Las Vegas as a whole can build a more inclusive, diverse and equitable community?

I grew up in what was considered the poorest part of town. In my high school graduating class, there were 28 Black kids who graduated in a class of 700 people. Out of those 700 people, I was chosen as student body president. I never felt anything other than love and compassion.

I had kids in my school whose parents’ jobs ranged from casino owners to housekeepers, and to me, we were all the same. My love of this community is deep because this community showed me that I could achieve whatever goal I wanted. I could have any kind of opportunity that I wanted if I chose to work hard and be good to people. I got that from this community. 

I believe that we need to be able to weave diversity of experiences, diversity of colors, race, sexualities, everything in order to move the needle for the southern Nevada community. At United Way of Southern Nevada, we are dedicated to bringing people from all walks of life into the fold to create solutions to the community’s most pressing problems and help southern Nevadans utilize and leverage the resources available to create meaningful change in the community.

From the time you grew up in Las Vegas compared to what it is like now, how has your viewpoint of the community changed?

I believe the evolution of the city since I grew up really struck me when I went and visited my alma mater Chaparral High School. UWSN’s partner, Jobs for Nevada’s Graduates has a program at Chaparral that helps students find their path after high school, whether that is college, workforce training, etc. The diversity of the student population has increased since I attended, and I believe this shows how our city has grown to become more diverse over the decades.

When I met these students, they gave me hope for the future. Their passion and dedication to their dreams are unmatched. In speaking with the students, they shared a wide variety of career paths in mind for their future. I could not have dreamed of nearly as many opportunities for career paths when I was in school. While the city has grown significantly in population, the caring spirit of Las Vegas has not changed.

When you took the position, what plans did you have in mind for UWSN and what preparations were required to set them in motion?

We have a tremendous responsibility in this moment to continue the long tradition of work that we’ve done with providing emergency assistance and critical assistance to people in times of need, and United Way has always been there. Our goal for this next year is to raise 17.1 million dollars so we are able to continue to support the important work we have been doing in the southern Nevada community for the past six and half decades.

Who is a local philanthropist in the Las Vegas community that inspires you and why?

I am truly inspired by Don Snyder. Don and his wife, Dee Snyder, have been pivotal philanthropic leaders in the Las Vegas community for decades and champions of United Way of Southern Nevada. We are humbled to have Don Snyder serve as our Honorary Campaign Chairman for UWSN’s 65th—Anniversary Celebration.

Recently, Jason Williams joined the team as the organization’s new director of donor relationships. What excited you most about adding Williams to your team?

I am excited for Jason to rally and galvanize the young philanthropists in our community to give back to the place we all call home. Through Jason’s philanthropic spirit and extensive background in fundraising for our community, he will ensure our organization and our community partners can continue to support people across the valley. With his expertise and lasting community partnerships, we look forward to engaging the next generation of philanthropists in southern Nevada and celebrating all who have contributed to our organization for the past 65 years and for many more to come.

As inflation continues to rise, 20 of UWSN non-profit partner’s received $5.8 million through the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP), which was the largest ESFP funding distribution in Southern Nevada’s history. With costs soaring globally, how does UWSN aim to keep up with the increasing demand for food and shelter assistance in the valley?

United Way of Southern Nevada is proud to continue our stewardship of the Emergency Food and Shelter Program to distribute crucial funding to the Southern Nevada community to provide food and shelter assistance.

If the needs of the community are not met through the American Rescue Plan funding and the Emergency Food and Shelter Program funding currently being distributed to local food and shelter assistance programs, UWSN will step up to ensure our nonprofit partners have the support they need to provide these services through private grant funding and through our Emergency Assistance and Community Needs fund.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we raised and distributed $2.4 million in the community to provide food, shelter, and utility assistance to those impacted by the rippling economic effects of the pandemic. We will answer the call again and rally our corporate partners, community partners, and individual donors to fundraise for this crucial cause if the needs of the community continue to grow.

As UWSN’s 65th anniversary approaches, how does it feel to be part of a non-profit organization reaching this milestone?

It is truly an esteemed honor to celebrate the rich history of United Way of Southern Nevada’s legacy in our beloved city of Las Vegas. I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect upon our valley’s past, present, and future and United Way’s role in it. Sixty-five years is a long time to show up in support of this community, and we are honored and humbled to do so! We are beginning this journey with a sense of purpose and humility and hope the community will join us to celebrate this notable milestone.

Want to attend the next UWSN event? On June 9, UWSN 65th Anniversary Presents Jonathan Karrant: A Birthday Celebration. Karrant is an acclaimed jazz singer whose album, “On and On,” earned a spot on Billboard Jazz charts, which is one of his many accolades. To secure a spot, purchase tickets from The Space.

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