As a girl growing up in the Armdale area of Halifax, Sara Napier came across as very shy and tender-hearted. “Even though I was quiet on the outside, on the inside I felt fierce. It’s like I was indignant for good!”
That strength of conviction still serves Napier today, as President and CEO of United Way Halifax. The organization is the 2021 winner of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce’s Business Award for Not-For-Profit of the Year. It was the first time that the Chamber created a category to recognize not-for-profits as an integral part of the business landscape.
“That award was big. It was an important win for our team, and for the non-profit sector. It was a celebration that the work we do matters. When they announced United Way as the winner, I just starting gushing,” says Napier.
Napier says she shed happy tears for her staff and board volunteers, “who are incredibly hard-working and whose hearts are genuine to the core.” She says the success of United Way Halifax is a result of their shared vision to bring about lasting social change by strengthening the community around them.
“We bring people together – volunteers, donors and partners – to invest in community-based programming and long-term solutions. Everything we do is done in partnership to influence for change for good,” says Napier.
When the pandemic hit our region last March, the 11 United Ways in Atlantic Canada joined forces to respond quickly and efficiently to what they knew would be an extremely difficult situation for marginalized communities. With United Way Halifax at the helm, they raised over $10 million dollars. Donations came from individuals, companies, and governments, ranging from two dollars to $1 million. Seventy-four charities in HRM received this COVID-19 relief funding from United Way Halifax, and more than 24,000 people were directly supported.
“We were humbled by the generosity of people who stepped up to support United Way during the pandemic. Every dollar made a difference. It’s amazing what we can accomplish together, when we are united by that kind of compassion,” says Napier.
From the moment Napier joined the organization in 2015, she has aimed to put the “united” in United Way, encouraging her team to propel the organization forward by shifting their vision outward and into the community that surrounds them. Napier says her role as President and CEO of United Way Halifax is a dream job because it aligns with her soul’s mission to create a community that is so resilient, poverty and injustice will eventually be squeezed out.
“We are very local with what we do. We work closely with community groups to understand the issues, and then respond accordingly. Part of our work is also about raising awareness with the public about the issues that exist in our community. Before COVID, we’d be at events like the Downtown Dartmouth Ice Festival and Nocturne on Portland Street, and then during COVID our virtual ‘No Home’ campaign shone a light on homelessness during a pandemic.”
The United Way Halifax office is located on Portland Street in downtown Dartmouth. Napier says her staff team loves supporting the local Dartmouth businesses in any way they can. In return, businesses are taking notice and sharing the love. The Trainyard General Store, REBEL Fitness Studio and others have raised money to support United Way Halifax. Napier says, ideally, she would like to see their offices move into a street-level storefront space to be more even more connected to the community.
“We fit right in here. I think the word murals that popped up around downtown Dartmouth are evidence of that. They create an atmosphere where people are caring for each other. My whole team feels that way too. I feel like it’s such a great place to be.”