As seen on | azcentral.com 12:24 p.m. MST July 1, 2014
By Alison Stanton, Special for The Republic
To say that Katherine Cecala loves to volunteer is probably the understatement of the year.
"My passion is volunteering," she says. "I've been a volunteer all my life."
Cecala, who has been chief operating officer at Valley of the Sun United Way for almost seven years, says her interest in volunteering is what brought her to the organization in the first place.
"In 1991, I had just moved to Phoenix, and I called Valley of the Sun United Way to see if they needed any help," she says, adding that she had volunteered with other United Ways over the years in other cities.
Sixteen years later, after working in the community, serving on the board and a variety of other volunteer committees, Cecala was asked to be on the search committee to find a new CEO for the organization. Along the way, she was encouraged to apply for the position of COO
"I never planned on working here for pay," Cecala recalls, laughing. "In fact, I remember asking them, 'Why would you want to start paying me now?' Their response was that they were convinced that I could do so much more if I was on the staff, so I applied and accepted the position."
After two-plus decades with Valley of the Sun United Way, Cecala remains as committed as ever to its mission, as well as volunteering. In her spare time, she sits on a lot of local boards, and helps out wherever and however she can with a variety of organizations, including the Humane Society.
Although most people are familiar with the United Way, Cecala says it can be challenging, at times, to explain the complex and beneficial work they do.
"It's not anything that one organization can do on its own," she says. "We have great name recognition and people trust us but they may not know what we do."
Cecala says she is immensely proud of the work the United Way does to help people of all ages.
"The United Way makes such an impact on the community, and we have the unique ability to bring parties together to solve complex issues by creating systemic changes," she says, adding that the organization focuses on three key points: ensuring that children and youth are successful, ending hunger and homelessness, and improving the financial stability of families.
"I can see every day the difference we are making in peoples' lives," she says.