United Way of Charles County
Under Michael Bellis, the United Way of Charles County has launched its Community Connections program, which was designed to provide rapid response to communities needing access to critical services. The United Way chapter provided dental clinics in rural communities, as well as free legal counseling and food where needed.
The program was just getting on its feet when the pandemic struck, Bellis said. “All of our previous events had been inside and close contact,” he said. “Luckily, we had the foresight to design the program to be nimble and adaptable, which allowed us to pivot to a drive-through model.”
The pandemic was the ultimate stress test on the program, he said, noting that it’s been a successful transformation. An August drive-through event with about 40 vendors distributed school and cleaning supplies, food, pet food, face masks and much more to about 1,000 people in more than 300 vehicles. There were also 82 free COVID-19 tests performed, Bellis said.
“My job is to fight for working families in Charles County. We have forged new relationships and strengthened others. This has allowed us to relieve pressure on our individual donors and seek alternative sources of funding to expand our new work,” he said.
The chapter’s free tax preparation services also help provide financial stability to families, he said. “We are positioning them on a course of self-sufficiency that they might not have had otherwise.”
Bellis, executive director since 2014, has an associate’s degree in business administration from the College of Southern Maryland and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in the discipline from the University of Maryland Global Campus.
When he was named executive director at 25 years old, Bellis said he was the youngest United Way leader in the country.
“I am proud that my board placed its confidence in me and was willing to take a leap of faith in a non-traditional candidate. Together, we have transformed the organization from a pass-through fundraiser to an innovative, lean hub that leads the community’s efforts in social improvement,” he said.