By Michael McNally
It all started in a land far, far away…In this case, that would be Tennessee where Tina Lamb Gentry was born a mere 45 years ago. But Tennessee was a short stop on her journey to the Lowcountry. Tina came to Beaufort with her parents when she was 10 and graduated from Beaufort High before heading to college at USC. There, she collected multiple degrees and also collected her high school sweetheart, Kevin, as husband.
While starting a family of their own, Tina made a career move into the field of hospice palliative care. This move was due in part to Tina’s compassion related to her godmother spending her last days in a hospice facility back in Tennessee. But beyond that, Tina decided she wanted to make a positive impact not just on a few people, but also on an entire community. She wanted to become involved in a non-profit organization serving an overall community need.
In 2011, while living in Asheville, NC the Gentry’s suffered two devastating losses of Kevin’s mother and father in rapid succession. Tina said, “It was then that the memories of all that we had gained by living in the Lowcountry became crystal clear and although tricky from an employment perspective, we both agreed, it was time to go home. It was time to go to Beaufort.”
Soon after, Tina became aware of an opening for the position of President and CEO of United Way of the Lowcountry. This was a chance to fulfill a dream, or need, to work in the non-profit sector and to raise their family in the place that held so many wonderful memories for both she and her husband.
When Tina started in her new position at United Way, she recalled her first impression, “The needs here are incredible and sometimes more than overwhelming.” She found that “You don’t really know what an agency does until you work or volunteer for them.” Tina quickly learned that “United Way of the Lowcountry, which serves two large counties, has both the wealthiest and some of the poorest people economically in the State. Further, I found that there are needs in all areas of the community, regardless of economic status.”
She remembers, “At first I was surprised that most of the people who came to us for help were employed, hard-working people, where one crisis had completely derailed them and their families. And I saw it happen time and time again.”
Because the lack of education, specifically reading ability in grades K-3rd, seemed to be at the root of many other issues, United Way has put a focus there. “We are not experts in education, but we are experts at mobilizing resources to solve human problems. Currently the United Way is recruiting, training and deploying tutors in eight elementary schools in Beaufort and Jasper Counties. The program continues to grow and expand and is currently serving 509 students using over 200 active volunteers. Results are encouraging. In the 2013-14 school year, 98% of Beaufort County students and 95% of Jasper County students who worked with our tutors saw improvements in their MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) scores.” That is pretty terrific.
Tina also emphasized that, “United Way is making sure every dollar is leveraged to the maximum toward effecting positive community outcomes.” She said, “Our administrative costs are only 13% of our donations, compared with a national average of 30% for most non-profit entities. We are proud of that.”
But the most telling of what drives Tina is a simple sentence made famous by John F. Kennedy that she believes to the bottom of her heart – “I believe that to whom much is given, much is required.” That defines a standard that she holds for herself, her family, and her team at United Way. “I feel a personal responsibility to the donors and the community to be a good steward of the resources that have been entrusted to UWLC.”
Amazingly enough, Tina does have a few, very few, minutes to do something outside of United Way. She is a regular cheerleader at her son’s BHS football games and is currently on the search committee for a new head of school at Bridges Prep where her daughter is enrolled. But her heart and soul is always with United Way. Beaufort is incredibly lucky to have Tina and Tina is lucky to have us. This big, all-encompassing family is what makes living in the Lowcountry so very special.