President & CEO, United Way of Greater Stark County
When Maria Heege retires—someday—she wants to live on a boat, making jewelry. Until then, though, she is thoroughly enjoying the career she has chosen, servant leadership, which makes her one of Stark County’s most influential people.
Heege is president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Stark County.
A few years before she was selected CEO, United Ways from three communities had merged to create the United Way of Greater Stark County. “My focus was to continue to maintain connectivity and services to these three communities while building a strong sense of collaboration. Today, we are partnered together at all levels of our community. We find and create synergies among other agencies and find a shared focus on issues that affect our residents. Together we are stronger. Together we are making a positive change, and I will continue to lead with that focus into the future.”
Commenting that she is proud of the work she has done thus far, Heege said she doesn’t stand alone in the work United Way does in Stark County.
“It takes a strong team of staff and volunteers and a generous amount of perseverance, vision and flexibility,” she said. “You must be nimble enough to change course quickly when new challenges arise and to act with effectiveness and transparency. You must be ready to address new needs in innovative ways. That means we have to constantly be in tune with the community and its needs and the voices of people we serve.”
Heege does not consider herself influential. Rather, she said, “I have built my career on the philosophy of servant leadership. When you truly are a servant leader, sincerely focused on giving back and helping others, your actions will speak louder than words and others will be inspired.”
She believes her success has come from experience.
“It’s all about people, issues and relationships developed over the years. I’m fortunate to have built relationships and trust with leaders in our community. I strive to be a good listener, to be transparent and to engage others. Through United Way, I have the unique ability to reach out to businesses and nonprofits to convene at a moment’s notice and rally around important issues. Again, no greater good has ever been achieved without the work of many people. I hope that I have been able to offer insight to other leaders and vision to other organizations that we all can work together in a more meaningful way. I would never describe myself as influential, but I can wholeheartedly see the incredible influence United Way’s work has on our community.”