For the first time in the United Way of the Coastal Empire’s history, someone from Effingham County will lead its board of directors.
Pratt Summers was welcomed as the new board chairman during the United Way of the Coastal Empire’s annual meeting and awards luncheon at the Westin Savannah Harbor.
“I am humbled to follow in the footsteps of the great Savannah leaders who have served as board chair for the United Way,” Summers said. “I will serve to the best of my ability so that together, through the United Way, we as a community can touch the lives of those around us in need.”
Summers lives in Effingham with his wife Kim and their three children. He is assistant vice president of operations for Colonial Group, a Savannah-based petroleum and chemicals conglomerate.
Summers has been on the United Way of the Coastal Empire board of directors since 2009, holding the offices of treasurer and vice chair prior to assuming the top spot. He lauded the six board chairs he served under for setting the leadership example he will follow.
“Now it is my turn to carry the torch of the United Way and encourage you to give, advocate and volunteer,” Summers told the audience at the annual meeting, “because I now know how big these seeds of encouragement can grow.”
Outgoing board chair Michael Traynor thanked the community for donating almost $9 million to the United Way of the Coastal Empire’s 2014 fundraising campaign. United Way contributions assisted nearly 100 programs across 54 non-profit organizations in Chatham, Effingham, Bryan and Liberty counties in the past year.
Twenty-four of those were in Effingham. The Effingham United Way had its highest-ever campaign total of $354,069 and assisted an average of 5,195 people per month last year, according to its annual report.
“Being a resident of Effingham County, I am proud that Effingham leads the other outlying counties in support of the United Way of the Coastal Empire,” Summers said. “We could not do it without the leadership of Georgia-Pacific, the board of education, Georgia Power, Effingham County Health System and the county government, as well as all of the individual donors.”
Lessons in giving
One of the most valuable lessons Summers learned in college didn’t come from a classroom.
Longtime Savannah educator Joe Buck was Armstrong State’s dean of student affairs at the time. He also was volunteering as board chair of the United Way.
Summers credits Buck with impressing upon him to “think beyond myself and volunteer.” Summers served in several roles on campus including student government, honor court, residence hall manager and on Armstrong’s freshman orientation team, all under Buck’s leadership.
“It was Joe Buck who taught me to volunteer,” Summers said.
“And by the way,” he added, “Dr. Buck’s advice to serve on the freshman orientation team paid off big as I met a young freshman, Kimberly Chastain, who would become my wife of 22 years.”
Another past United Way board chair played a key role a few years later, when Summers joined the Colonial Group. Colonial patriarch Robert Demere Sr. encouraged employees to give back to the community, and the company matched their donations to the United Way.
“It was Mr. Demere who taught me to give,” Summers said.
Along with his six years on the United Way of the Coastal Empire board of directors, Summers has served on the Springfield Revitalization Corporation board and in various capacities at Springfield United Methodist Church, including administrative board chairman. He is a graduate of Leadership Savannah.
“He comes to this leadership role with much previous volunteer leadership experience and a genuine heart and spirit for giving back to the community,” said Bonnie Dixon, United Way Effingham area director.
Summers also was a PTSO officer for six years for Ebenezer Elementary School, where his wife teaches. He and fellow parents helped raise money for the school, including $80,000 in one year.
“I was just amazed at how people get mobilized to give back for their kids,” he said. “I’m proud of what we did there at Ebenezer.”
At age 47, Summers says he has “a lot more charity work in me.
“This is kind of a beginning.”