Georgia native Patty Youngblood took a step into the unknown 19 years ago when she accepted the job as President of the United Way of West Georgia. After raising two sons and leading various organizations for 29 years in Oklahoma, she felt it was time to return to her home state.
She’s never regretted it.
“Having grown up in Georgia, I knew the comfortable feel of a small town. LaGrange had that feel, the warmth, the graciousness…The longer I live here, the longer I want to be here,” she said.
Now, on the cusp of retirement, Youngblood can look back on nearly two decades of successes and challenges, uplifting moments, and sobering realities.
She sees United Way’s role as bringing community entities together and says there are basically three “clients” the organization serves: the 23 agencies that receive United Way funding, the people helped by the agencies, and the donors whose financial gifts make it all possible.
“Our job is to ensure that the money is being used judiciously,” she said.
Youngblood came to her role well-prepared. She’d been a university fundraiser, a Main Street manager, and executive director of a volunteer center serving multiple agencies in central Oklahoma.
“I had the experience of being on the other side, a different perspective. It was wonderful preparation for this job.”
Youngblood says she has tried to be a listening ear for the agencies, “because I understand how hard their job is.”
Paul Stedman, longtime director of LaGrange Personal Aid, a United Way agency, says Youngblood has done exactly that.
“Patty has always been a great example of God’s love and compassion. A good friend, a great leader, and a true lady. She has always been available to give me advice when needed.”
When he thinks of Youngblood, Stedman said, he is reminded of a famous Ralph Waldo Emerson poem on Success.
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded.”
Youngblood’s success in the complicated role of United Way president is reflected in her selection as grand marshal of the 2022 Christmas parade, set for December 1.
Chamber Board Chairman Jamey Jackson, with a little help from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, announced the selection at the October Early Bird Breakfast, describing Youngblood as “a helper in making our community stronger by supporting a network of programs that meet specific needs for improved education, basic needs and help throughout life.” He also cited Youngblood’s success in “raising millions of dollars to support United Way agencies over the course of 19 years, making a huge impact on so many people in our community.”
Youngblood, who went to the event expecting, as she put it, “nothing more than a good breakfast, good company, and a great speaker,” said the surprise announcement nearly brought her to tears.
“Wow! I am so humbled and excited at the same time. What an honor! The Christmas parade is such a cherished tradition. Thank you, LaGrange! I will be there with bells on.”
As she prepares to hand the United Way reins to longtime United Way Vice President Sharon Alford, Youngblood says she’s most proud – and most passionate- about the focus on literacy that has seen several early learning programs started and/or supported by United Way in recent years. Each of the programs, including Success by Six, Born Learning, Get Troup Reading, First Book, Books for Babies, Little Free Libraries, and more, requires multiple community groups to pull together.
“We are all stronger when we work together,” she said.
For example, United Way launched Success by Six through its women’s leadership council known as the Magnolia Society and partnered with the Troup County School System, the Troup County Center for Strategic Planning, and Troup Family Connections to get the Get Troup Reading program off the ground. Civic clubs, the Callaway Foundation, and community volunteers also strongly back the literacy efforts.
Youngblood believes the focus on improving community literacy is essential to reducing the school dropout rate and promoting self-sufficiency, as well as a direct link to workforce development.
“If you are going to change your community, you have to start with the families. I have seen growth in the awareness of literacy and it’s been incredibly gratifying,” Youngblood said.
Describing her decision to retire as “really hard,” Youngblood says she’s looking forward to spending more time with her sons and three grandchildren but also anticipates a new chapter of service.
“I don’t plan to sit at home on the couch,” she said. “I still want to be involved in the community. I haven’t learned all this stuff just to put it on the shelf.”