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Whew! We pulled it off!

The United Way staff has been plotting and planning in secret for months, and last night our plan was kicked into action!

To mark United Way President Cathy Train’s 20th anniversary of service to the United Way, we threw a surprise reception. Rather than try to get her to show up somewhere, and risk her crazy schedule ruining our plans, we decided to have the party immediately following a board meeting (she HAS to attend those). The trouble was, our regular board meeting spaces do not have separate rooms big enough to hold the party. So, we came up with a very convoluted excuse to have the meeting at the Omni Hotel.

Our board meetings are usually very lively, with lots of discussion, and often run over schedule. We were in a panic about this, especially as Cathy kept adding agenda items. We had guests arriving at 5pm, and it looked like the meeting might run until 5:30. Nooooooo! She wondered why I was so obsessed with trimming the agenda (I kept whining about wanting to get home).

All week we secretly harassed our wonderful board via email: "Be on time, please! Read your materials in advance, and have questions ready, please! If you are on the agenda, please keep things moving!" When most folks showed up EARLY for the meeting, everyone was stunned. What a great group of folks.

The meeting came to order on time at 4pm. Jon Nafziger, Kim Connolly, Leah Hill and I were the staff in the meeting with Cathy. As soon as the meeting started, the rest of our team sprang into action down the hall in the Ballroom. Alaina Schroeder, Lisa Frazier, Shaele Wood, Martha Trujillo, and Miriam Rushfinn rushed around, bringing in sound equipment, flowers, an electronic piano, etc. They arranged the room and coordinated with the great staff at the Omni.

Meanwhile, the Board meeting hummed along. Actually, it FLEW along. Suddenly we were way AHEAD of schedule, and on track to finish by 4:30pm! Darn those Board members for listening to us! I frantically texted the other room, and Jon coughed and rushed out to check on them. He came back a little pale, saying that the cake had not yet arrived, and they were still setting things up, and that the other guests had yet to arrive. Oh NO! With only a couple of quick agenda items left, it was up to Kim to stretch.

Kim had planned a very quick report on our upcoming marketing campaign. She was confident, whispering to us in the back of the room, "Don’t worry, I can talk and talk!" Boy, can she! She went on and on and ON. Cathy kept trying to catch her eye to tell her to wrap up, but Kim kept right on talking. She was great, and it was hilarious.

Mark Giles, our Chairman, was completely on the ball and asked another Board member for a quick  report on a community event. This got us to exactly 5pm. Mark then launched right into an announcement about Cathy’s anniversary, which was Leah’s cue to start a special presentation about Cathy (hilarious photos) and my cue to text the other room to Get Ready.

After the presentation, Mark led us all down the hall to the Ballroom. Cathy was overcome. Shocked. Delighted. Embarrassed. Thrilled to see her daughter, who’d flown in that afternoon. It was great!

Cathy is absolutely beloved by her staff and by this community, and with good reason, as she is an incredible leader who has done so much to serve those in need. The party was such a happy event, with so many people so very pleased to honor her. I haven’t seen that many wide grins in a long time. The toasts were funny and touching, and Cathy’s remarks were extremely eloquent. I was, and am, so proud to work for the United Way- Thomas Jefferson Area.

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Posted by Caroline Emerson.

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