Board Member Spotlight: Luke Francisco

“I grew up in Grand Rapids and after spending 6+ years in the Duluth area, had the opportunity to return to my hometown. Growing up here, I was fortunate to benefit from so many of the opportunities the Northwoods is known for. I spent a lot of time playing hockey and baseball, hunting and fishing. It was through some of those things that I recognized what a close community this is. I married my high school sweetheart Anna Johnson in 2012. We have a two-year-old son (Otto), a new baby (Milo), and a friendly yellow lab named Nyko. We feel very fortunate to call Itasca County our home.”

What inspired you to be involved with United Way?
During my experience in the Blandin Community Leadership Program, I was lucky to meet a lot of people who are doing great things for various programs in the community. The exciting thing about United Way is the breadth of programs that it supports.  I was attracted to the opportunity to learn more about how these programs and initiatives invest in this community. United Way of 1000 Lakes was a direct avenue to do just that because it serves almost like a mutual fund, the dollars we receive are transformed into a diversified investment into health, education, and basic needs. These are three staples of a healthy community in terms of providing services to those in need.  Since serving on the board, it has only become more and more apparent how much the group of programs we fund makes an impact on people’s lives. I am proud to serve on and lead this board because we really are making a difference here.

What is the most rewarding thing you have taken from this experience?
The most rewarding piece of the United Way experience for me has been seeing the stories of how the programs we support have real impact. For example, one individual was able to go from homeless to full-time employment with a residence in a matter of a couple of months. This testimonial was especially compelling because it highlighted how a United Way sponsored program propelled a motivated person who wanted contribute to society to do so by simply paving a path. As we go around and do site visits during our allocation process, we come across stories like these. This is why we invest.

What is one word you would use to sum up United Way’s work?
Again, I like to use the word “Investment.” United Way’s efforts really serve as an investment in our community. We ask for donations, but each donation, whether large or small, is an investment in the programs we serve.

What impresses you most about Itasca?
This community really has a lot of pride. I haven’t met someone from here who isn’t proud of that fact. I also feel that pride grow when transplants or newcomers point out how special Itasca County is.  And it seems everyone that comes here embraces this community for what it is. Growing up, many kids want to leave this “small town.” Now I am finding so many of those people are trying to return to raise their families. I think this is because of programs like United Way. It is just one of many nonprofit agencies that promote health, happiness, and goodwill in the area. As I grow older, I realize that things that exist here aren’t in larger cities or in smaller towns. We really have a niche here.

What is one thing about United Way that you think most people don’t know?
I think most people consider United Way from the national platform. They see the television commercials during NFL games or see the logo posted in advertisements. I think what most people may not realize is that we spend a lot of time and energy looking into what specific needs this local community has.  We react to those needs, and we ensure that we allocate our investments to the things that most embody those needs. We are LOCAL, only about 1% goes to United Way Worldwide, and the resources and materials we are able to utilize and distribute to community members as part of that membership far outweigh that fractional cost.

What advice would you give to a potential donor who is considering investing in United Way?
First I would ask them to check out our website and see what we support, but then I would urge them to consider the domino effect that one donation can have. Some people have a specific program they want to invest in. While that is great, many, like myself, don’t know exactly what to support. The great thing about United Way that I mentioned above is the diversity of our dollars spent. You can make one investment that will sprawl across several disciplines that strengthen the community as a whole. That investment can be money, or it can be in-kind, or it can be volunteering for a great event like Day of Action. There are several ways to help sustain the success and the winning that happens with United Way of 1000 Lakes.