United Way of Hampshire County director takes leave

  • Llewellyn Simons—

Friday, May 12, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — The United Way of Hampshire County is losing a leader, but a neighboring United Way is gaining one.

Jim Ayres, who has lead the Hampshire County agency since 2011, will begin his tenure on June 12 as president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Pioneer Valley.

Ayres says he is excited to join the neighboring agency, which is about twice the size and serves a more impoverished population than that of Hampshire County.

“Part of what I’m excited to do is to take that success we’ve experienced here in Hampshire County and see how I can use that to address needs and make the biggest difference we can in Hampden County,” he said Thursday. “It’s a great opportunity for me, and one that I’m excited to embrace.”

Both United Way affiliates are private nonprofits that raise funds to serve the most vulnerable in the community.

Bennett Markens, chairman of the board for the Hampden County agency, said “we are expecting him to take us to the next level.”

“He’s very articulate, very passionate,” Markens said of Ayres. “After we went through all the candidates, we had no question about who we’d hire.”

Markens said that he’s proud of the work the nonprofit has done under the leadership of Dora Robinson, who is retiring. He said they don’t simply throw money at a problem, but track the outcomes and use data to drive where the funds will go next.

“The most important thing is the great work that all the United Ways do,” he said.

Julie Cowan, chairwoman of the board for the United Way of Hampshire County, said the organization will soon appoint an interim executive director. As for a permanent one, she said that will take time.

“We don’t want to rush into it because it’s a really important role,” she said.

Meantime, she said she has every confidence the agency will endure the coming change.

“We’re in a very strong financial position,” she said. “Jim has assembled a really strong staff.”

Cowan said Ayres’ ability “to synthesize a lot of information in a clear, strategic way” has served the organization well. Ayres was executive director of the Center for New Americans for 12 years prior to joining the United Way.

“I think he’s helped us to transform our grant-making process so we are consistent and transparent in that,” she said. “While we’re sad that Jim is moving on, this organization is not about one person.

“With change, there’s opportunity.”

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@gazettenet.com.