California United Way Network’s Public Policy Committee Appreciates Founding Co-Chair and Welcomes a New Leader - United Ways of California

California United Way Network’s Public Policy Committee Appreciates Founding Co-Chair and Welcomes a New Leader

Friday, January 26, 2024

United Ways of California was originally created because local United Ways realized that there was a great need for state organizing around critical issues affecting all of our communities. Over time, we began to establish and expand our advocacy reach, locally and regionally. When our network established a statewide Public Policy Committee, it marked the next evolution for our network’s policy and advocacy work.

Critical to that work has been Larry Olmstead, President & CEO of United Way of Northern California. As one of the founding Committee co-chairs, he took on the responsibility and a leadership role to help guide our entire network’s agenda. 

As Larry steps down as co-chair of the California United Way Network’s Public Policy Committee, he leaves behind a legacy of impactful advocacy and policy making, inspiring future leaders within the United Way network to continue our pursuit of equitable and effective governance. His impact also serves as a reminder of the vital role individuals play in driving progress through advocacy. 

Larry has shaped and advocated for policies that address some of the most pressing issues of our time. With unwavering commitment and expertise, he helped navigate our network through complex political landscapes, fostering dialogue and consensus among many groups. Above all, Larry always ensured that those who have not historically been heard always had a seat at the table. To Larry, it has always been about making space for others and leading from a place of partnership, not authority. 

Larry’s leadership was marked by his ability to blend pragmatism with vision, ensuring that our priorities and policies reflected the evolving needs of our communities. Under his guidance, the committee achieved significant milestones, from CalEITC expansion for ITIN holders to the biggest community schools investment in the nation. 

While Larry’s absence will undoubtedly be felt, it also presents an opportunity for new leadership to build upon this solid foundation and inject new perspectives into the committee’s endeavors. 

We now embark on a new year, filled with new opportunities. On behalf of California’s United Way network, we are immensely honored to announce that Keisha Browder, CEO of United Way of Santa Cruz County, will become the committee’s newest co-chair! Alongside Mari Perez-Dowling, President and CEO of United Way of Central Eastern California, Keisha will help lead our most important policy conversations in 2024. To help our network to get to know her a bit better, we asked her a few questions. 

Getting to Know Keisha Browder

Tell us a little bit about you and your background. 

My name is Keisha Browder. I use she/her/ella pronouns. I am the Chief Executive Officer for United Way of Santa Cruz County, and I am excited to accept the nomination of incoming co-chair of our statewide Public Policy Committee!

I’m a South Los Angeles native who greatly benefitted from United Way bringing various afterschool programs and services to my elementary school. It was my introduction to track and field, which paved the way for my stellar student-athletic career from elementary to college as well as my leadership development and civic engagement.

What should we know about the community your United Way serves?

Founded in 1941, we were initially the Pajaro Valley Community Chest before becoming the United Way of Santa Cruz County. Nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains between Silicon Valley and Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz County is home to 300,000 residents who are proud of our rich and vibrant agriculture. One particular point of pride is that we are the founding home of Martinelli’s Sparkling Apple Cider. Santa Cruz County is a “Tale of Two Cities,” with innovations such as Joby Aviation, O’Neill Surf, and agriculture, while nearly 16% of the families experiencing poverty reside in Watsonville, the majority of them farmworkers. United Way leverages its strength in working together to create opportunities for youth and families to thrive to ensure there is a quality of life that can be experienced by all.

How long have you been with the United Way network? What made you want to work with United Way?

I’ve been with the United Way network for 13 years, a decade of that being with United Way of Santa Cruz County.

In my 20+ years in the nonprofit sector, my work has always been in partnership with United Way. I believe in the power of community, and United Way aligns with my values.

What motivates you?

My belief in the power of community and knowing that I’m listening to my calling to be a part of the change I wish to see for myself and others is what motivates me.

Why are policy and advocacy important to you? How do you see advocacy impact your community?

Policy sets systems into motion, and systems create community. I must use my voice and leadership to ensure policies and systems are creating healthy and thriving communities for ALL.

What are you most excited to work on as California United Way Network’s Public Policy Committee co-chair?

I am excited to work alongside co-chair Mari Perez-Dowling and other colleagues in the network to be the trusted and sound voice, creating space for those historically excluded from having their voices heard. I am also excited to connect with legislators to examine policies that will improve the quality of life for Californians.


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