Becky Frank Tulsa World Editorial: Why the TAUW holds a special place in my life

One hundred years ago this week, a group of visionary Tulsa area business leaders came together, united in a common purpose, to streamline charitable fundraising efforts to address their community’s toughest challenges. They called their collective effort the Tulsa Community Fund. A century later, we call it the Tulsa Area United Way (TAUW).

From its founding in 1924, TAUW has taken on seemingly insurmountable challenges – the aftermath of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, the Great Depression, World War II, the HIV-AIDs epidemic, and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, because of the United Way, someone accessed the services of a partner nonprofit approximately 600,000 times. But TAUW is more than just statistics. It’s about the people behind the work, volunteers, community leaders, and the individuals whose lives have been transformed by its 160 funded programs – lives like mine.

My journey with TAUW began 37 years ago, back in 1986, under the leadership of then-President and CEO Kathleen Coan. Kathleen had a strong will, was extremely competitive, and was driven and energized to make our United Way one of the best in the nation. Thank you, Kathleen.

It was during this time, as TAUW’s communications director, that my personal life intertwined with TAUW’s mission. As a single mom, I remember my young daughter, Annie, sitting with me when I had to work late. This period also saw the entrance of my now-husband, Jack Frank, who I met the day he walked into the TAUW building to meet with Kathleen. That chance meeting sparked a romance, culminating in a whimsical engagement announcement – a faux news release on official United Way letterhead.

Because of my seven years at TAUW, I developed the skills that helped me later become a partner and chair at Schnake Turnbo Frank, a public relations and leadership development firm.

Throughout my time as a United Way staffer and then a proud volunteer and advocate, I’ve had the honor of working alongside exceptional individuals. A true Tulsa Area United Way champion, Clydella Hentschel, paved the way for female leaders like me when she was the first woman to co-chair the annual TAUW fundraiser in 1992.

In 2013, my own involvement with TAUW took an unexpected turn when Mark Graham, the past president and CEO, offered me the opportunity to be the first woman to solo chair the annual TAUW fundraiser. Overwhelmed yet deeply honored, I embraced the opportunity to help an organization that has personally helped me time and time again.

When Dad got Alzheimer’s, LIFE Senior Services was there. When my brother, Billy, was living with bipolar mental health and substance abuse issues, then 12&12, now GRAND Mental Health, was there and helped prolong his time with us. An angel named Carldell, who was living on the bench outside our building, was helped by many United Way nonprofit partners who came to the rescue. This resulted in a new home, dental care, counseling services, finding a job, and prolonging his life for many years. In turn, I was the one who really benefited from this relationship, as Carldell helped me cope with Billy’s loss.

As these stories illustrate, TAUW’s impact transcends community service. It enriches our personal lives, fostering connections that touch our families, friends, and colleagues. That’s just a few reasons why I am chairing Tulsa Area United Way’s Centennial celebration. I love how our Centennial theme, “100 Starts with 1,” embodies how the first dollar donated and the first volunteer hour given back in 1924 started a movement that has raised $926 million over the past century. And, in the process, TAUW has transformed our community in ways the Tulsa Area United Way founders could have only imagined.

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