By Dan Sokil, The Reporter
Upper Merion >> Friday night marked the first gathering of its kind for “superheroes” across the greater Philadelphia region.
The United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey held its first ever “Superheroes UNITE” gala and fundraiser, bringing together everyday heroes from across Montgomery County.
“One of the things that’s really important is to recognize that, while the challenges we face are very real, there is a way to celebrate, with humor and excitement, the people who are heroic,” said Bill Golderer, President and CEO of United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.
“We need to express that the quest to overcome poverty is difficult, we need each other, and we need to have fun along the way,” he said.
Last summer the North Penn United Way merged into the larger Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey organization, bringing all of Montgomery County under one roof — and the larger organization took over the annual superheroes event that had been held by North Penn to honor local standouts.
“If we could take just a little of the passion in this room, and harness it, we could make such a difference for this county, and across the region,” Golderer said.
Among the superheroes recognized was Bobby Keyes, general manager of Enterprise Holdings and a board member of the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, who said he has vivid memories of the first donation he made to the United Way — a $10 per month withholding from his first paycheck with the company, more than 30 years ago.
“My first donation was $120. I was making $15,000 a year, and they asked me to donate, and I said ‘I can afford $10 a month.’ That’s where the $120 came from, and I steadily just got more and more involved,” he said.
That involvement has grown to a spot on the greater United Way’s board, and a lead role in fund raising campaigns that have raised tens of millions of dollars, but Keyes said he hasn’t forgotten the feeling of being in need.
“I’m that person that grew up in a row home in North Philly, and our family had needs. Mom and dad sacrificed, and really positioned me and my family to know that we had to give back,” he said. “For folks that think poverty is just an inner city thing, it’s not.”
Phyllis Mann, of E & M Insurance and longtime board member of the North Penn Boys and Girls club, said she was on that organization’s board in the early 1980s when its first hired longtime leader Bob Kreamer, and she credited him along with fellow board members and staff from growing that organization from one location to three, helping hundreds of kids at each.
“Certainly we don’t volunteer in the community to be honored, but it is very nice for people to recognize what we do,” she said.
Superhero Abel Rodriguez of Cabrini University said, after being named a superhero, he was surprised in his classroom by United Way personnel, who had him don his cape in front of a full room of students.
“We learn about all of the work people do in Montgomery County, all the ways people are serving the community, the ways they’re leading different groups toward more involvement, and more justice in the county,” he said.
Rodriguez was nominated by Nelly Jimenez-Arevalo of ACLAMO Family Centers, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of Latino communities in Philadelphia and Montgomery and Chester counties.
“The United Way, for a nonprofit organization, is like the big dad, the head, and a lot of my first training when I was an upcoming leader, I got from the United Way,” she said.
“I was just a coordinator, so that professional training that United Way had offered me, has been very important in my life, and not only to me but for other people,” Jimenez-Arevalo said. “It’s very important for people like Abel and me to have big voices, to make sure that people hear what we have to say, and be the voice of those that can’t speak.”
Leslie Slingsby, Executive Director of the Mission Kids Child Advocacy Center, said she was thankful and proud to be nominated, but said she felt the men and women who help kids each day are those who deserve thanks from the public.
“We help make sure that children who have been abused are in a trauma-informed care program, in response to child abuse allegations. Truly, it’s the people who do the work in the organization who deserve the credit. It was very kind of them to nominate me, but I know who are the real superheroes,” Slingsby said.