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Central MA Up + Comer: United Way’s Heidi Charlebois

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Heidi Charlebois is a woman on the go, from working at United Way, to working out, to participating in her community for social change.

Heidi Charlebois is a Relationship and Foundation Manager at the United Way of Central Massachusetts, managing over 80 fundraising accounts and a portfolio of 30 foundations. Charlebois moved to Worcester in 2010 to attend Clark University’s International Development and Social Change MA program. She traveled to Nepal in 2011 to perform research and an impact evaluation on a children’s home. Charlebois lives in one of the oldest homes in Worcester with her Kenyan street dog and an 89 year-old-widow.

A conversation with Heidi Charlebois

SW: Can you describe your career at the United Way?

HC: I started off as a Commonwealth Corps member with the United Way of Central Massachusetts (UWCM) while I was attending Clark in 2010. I was responsible for planning volunteer events, encompassing everything from planning the activity to identifying and training the volunteers. In 2011 I became an In-House Loaned Executive, a position sponsored by WPI with the purpose of planning, implementing, and tracking all the non-profit fund-raising campaigns for the UWCM. In 2012 I was offered the full-time position of Relationship Manager, which remains my title today. As a Relationship Manager I work with employees of large local companies to plan and execute their UWCM fund-raising campaigns. I track their companies giving history and offer them insight into what their dollars do in the community. In January of 2013 I was given the role of Foundation Manager in addition to Relationship Manager. In this additional role I maintain UWCM’s foundation requests and work with local volunteers, cabinet and board members to ensure appropriate requests are made. 

SW: You got your Master’s in International Development and Social Change from Clark University. How has that impacted the course of your career?

HC: My master’s degree has given me the tools to think analytically and sustainably in terms of community development. These tools allow me to succeed in my position at the United Way through justifying the foundation request, accurately portraying our long term goals such as combating obesity, and increasing graduation rate to donors. 

SW: What motivated you to go to Kenya with the Peace Corps?

HC: I got my BS in Motor Development Therapy from Bridgewater State University, which inspired me help people with motor developmental delays and chronic injuries. I knew Polio and spinal cord injuries were very common in developing countries and I wanted to help. I thought I was going to get assigned to Morocco. However, when I got the invitation in the mail and it was for Kenya, I knew it was what I had to do. I needed to make the next few years about what I could do for other people. The experience was great, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

SW: What is the best thing about your current job?

HC: Everyday is different at the United Way; some days I will be at my desk writing our foundation requests, some days I will be volunteering in the community, and other days I will be giving a speech to 300 people about the programs they help fund in central Massachusetts. I was a youth mentor with the United Way’s Women’s Initiative Dollar $cholar, program last April and again in November. It’s been one of the best volunteering experiences I’ve had. It provides me with the opportunity to see the impact that donors have on the lives of children and families throughout the community and it is truly humbling. Our mission of connecting people with resources to improve the community is very simple, and has been beautifully unfolding in front of my eyes for the last three years. We have approximately 85% participation from the large companies throughout Central Massachusetts, their philanthropic efforts are unparalleled and really make a huge impact on the community – I honestly don’t know what our community would look like without their generosity and investments.  

SW: Can you describe a day in your life?

HC: I wake up with Baxter – my Kenyan street dog – and run him outside. Some mornings I try to go to yoga, but I am really not a morning person, so this is more of a rare occurrence than I would like. I make coffee for myself and Martha (my 89 year old landlady), build Martha a fire in the winter, and head out. On weekdays I go to work and get ready for whatever the day ahead of me entails, then head out to meetings or campaigns, or stay put and track donations, or write foundation requests. After work I do a lot of random activities – soccer, rock climbing, dog walking/running – it all depends on the season. I spend a lot of time with my landlady, who is recently widowed and just lost her dog. She and her husband have opened their home to students who need a little help with finances since 1974. They allow students to stay for free in exchange for helping them maintain their autonomy. After I graduated they informed me that they were getting older and I had become like family to them, and they asked me to stay indefinitely. Martha and I spend almost every evening together, and a lot of time together on the weekends. Martha is a firecracker, and my friends love coming over and talking with her about current events, and she loves the energy we ‘younger’ people bring into the house.

SW: What do you do away from your career?

HC: I participate in a lot of fund-raising activities; I’ve run 5k's for the Reliant Foundation and the Community Harvest Project, and participated in Reliant Medical’s Haven Fund Trampoline Dodgeball Tournament. I recently participated in the UWCM team for Karaoke for a Cure, a local fundraising effort for the Pancreatic Cancer Alliance of Worcester. On weekends in the summer I’ll head out to a body of water somewhere and either relax, wakeboard, or play Frisbee. In the winter I go skiing and/or snowboarding, or get together with friends and family and have a few laughs.

SW: Are you involved in the community? If so, how?

HC: Very much so, through work and volunteer opportunities. I frequently attend networking events such as Green Drinks and Chamber After Hours. I am also working with a partner to establish an Emerging Leaders program for central Massachusetts that will be kicking off in early 2014. This program is in partnership with UWCM and will be a platform for young professionals to network with each other, participate in civic opportunities and enhance their professional development. I am also unofficially involved in the community through recreational activities; I take Baxter to the park, or for hikes up Wachusett Mountain. I also meet up with friends and colleagues at local venues to support local artists, play pool, and just catch up.

SW: Who or what is the biggest influence in your life?

HC: Everyone in my life is involved in what both influences and inspires me. I am very lucky to have a really great network of friends, family and coworkers. They have all been there for me when I needed them, and they all have something uniquely beautiful about them.

SW: What is a fun fact few people know about you?

HC: I don’t buy animal products. A lot of people think this means I am a vegan, but I ate red meat earlier today, so I am definitely not that. I can lead a healthy life without animal products – if you come to my house I will cook you a delicious and filling meal, with no animal products. However, if I come to your house and you are serving meat, I will respect you and the animal that was sacrificed and eat it. The worst thing to me is to see meat in a trash can – meaning that animal’s death was completely in vain.

SW: Your favorite quote?

HC: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

SW: What is your favorite book?

HC: Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robbins

SW: What do you think creates success?

HC: Success in my opinion arises from a combination of determination, skills, good timing, and a great attitude. It’s hard to be humble, accept blame, constantly learn, encourage others, and stay focused; if you can do those things, you can go anywhere.

SW: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

HC: I see myself continuing to work in mission driven organizations and making an impact. My goal is to perform evaluations that help programs identify and reach their needs. I have experience working on the ground to help community members help themselves. Pairing my experience with my master’s degree, I see myself working directly with people to design sustainable programs, offer strategic insight, and oversee programs to ensure efficacy. I love the mission of the United Way, and I want to continue to work to help people connect to resource so they can improve their own lives.


Central MA Up + Comers is a weekly profile of a member of the next generation as they are making their mark on the Central MA workforce and community. Join us every Thursday for a look at the careers and lifestyles of the local digital generation. If you have suggestions for a profile, please email [email protected].

Susan Wagner is the president of Susan Wagner PR.  In this challenging economy, she has begun a new division to offer affordable start-up packages to new and emerging small businesses and non-profit organizations that include professional writing services, websites, collateral, marketing, social media, grassroots outreach and PR campaigns.


Related Slideshow: Women Leading in Central Massachusetts

Who are some of Central MA's high-level female bosses?  GoLocal takes a look at some of the leading women in the region in their respective industries, in the private and nonprofit sectors.  

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Tina Sbrega

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