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Columbia Inspired

A Voice For Change

May 22, 2022 07:26PM ● By Angela Davids

Any viewer of the business pitch reality show, Shark Tank, knows it can change lives. Amber Drenner proves that it's not always in the ways you think. As Drenner watched Evan Lutz, founder of Hungry Harvest, she felt inspired. In the days that followed, she reflected on her 13-year corporate marketing career.

"Instead of products like industrial equipment and software, I wanted to promote something that aligned with who I was and what I believed in. Helping people has always been a passion and a joy," Drenner said.

She looked for a position at Hungry Harvest, but nothing was available at the time. It was a disappointment to Drenner but a win for the United Way of Central Maryland. She has shined in development for nearly five years, with successive advancing positions. The organization recently named Drenner the Senior Director of Major Gifts.

"For me, fundraising is about storytelling and sharing the work that the United Way of Central Maryland does and the impact we're having in the community with our programs," Drenner says.

One of the most popular ways the public can learn about available services is through the United Way's 211 telephone helpline, a free and confidential service providing information, community resources, and referrals for a variety of health and human services issues, such as homelessness, food insecurity, childcare, suicide prevention, and so much more. 

Yet, there can be many barriers to accessing resources in the community for those who do not speak English. There have been times when Drenner attended resource fairs and events and recognized the lack of representation from the Latinx community. With her involvement through the United Way and as a volunteer with Columbia Community Care, Equity4HC, the Maryland Food Bank, and other nonprofits, she knew there was a need in the community. How could they improve outreach?

As a founding member and co-leader of United Way of Central Maryland's Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion(EDI) Committee, just one change she guided, the organization started producing marketing materials in multiple languages.

Under her leadership, the EDI Committee shaped the United Way of Central Maryland through changes in policy and procedure. For example, broadening the selection of vendors, reviewing the employee handbook, applying an equity lens to hiring practices, and providing diversity training for senior leadership.

In the past four years, Drenner has coordinated internal cultural appreciation social events, organized cultural trivia nights, and wrote diversity updates in the weekly internal newsletter. As co-leader of the EDI Committee, she also brought in thought-leaders as speakers, including the Associated Black Charities, Baltimore Racial Justice Action, Jabari Lyles when he was Deputy Director & Senior Advisor on LGBTQ Affairs for the Baltimore Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods, and Luminus Network for New Americans.

Now that she holds one of the most senior level roles in one of the country's oldest and largest nonprofits, Drenner will enthusiastically continue to share with donors the impact that United Way is making while incorporating her insights on the importance of increasing equity for the Latinx community to essential resources. Her perspective as a Latina and the daughter of immigrants will continue to shape the organization and expand the population it serves.

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