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Charting a Course for Orange County’s Future

Charting a Course for Orange County’s Future

The ConnectOC Blog is a place for sharing insight, information and examples of how Orange County residents, donors and nonprofits are working to build a brighter, stronger, more vibrant community.  We welcome you to share your thoughts by commenting below.

United Way President and CEO Max Gardner shares an ambitious 10-year plan for collective impact.


United Way is one of the best-known brands in U.S. philanthropy. The first United Way was founded in Denver in 1887 by a concerned citizen, a priest, two ministers and a rabbi who recognized the need for cooperative action to address their city’s social ills. 127 years later, 1,200 United Ways across the country continue to move the needle on the greatest challenges facing their communities.

oward their 100th year.

At the helm is Max Gardner, a 30-year veteran of the real estate industry who, prior to joining United Way in 2011, spent 11 years as president of The Irvine Company’s Apartment Communities. I asked the accomplished business and philanthropic leader to share United Way’s bold plans for Orange County’s future.

Shelley Hoss: Last year, United Way announced a 10-year campaign called FACE 2024. What’s behind this new direction?

Max Gardner: I have learned over the years that creating positive, lasting change is never is easy—whether in the business world or in the community. In order for United Way to be successful in tackling Orange County’s most complex issues, we knew we needed an even more effective and strategic approach.

SH: What do you hope to accomplish with FACE 2024?

MG: FACE 2024—an acronym for Fund, Advocate, Collaborate and Educate—is aimed at addressing the key building blocks for a good quality of life: education, income, health and housing. We know that these issues are too complex for any one organization to tackle on their own, so we’ve stepped up our role as a collaborator and convener to ensure that all the right partners are at the table to get the results our community needs.

SH: How will you know if FACE 2024 is successful? 

MG: We set ambitious goals, and we will track our progress against each one of them. We aim to cut Orange County’s high school dropout rate in half, to reduce the percentage of financially unstable families by 25 percent, and increase the number of healthy youth by one third. And finally, we’re committed to cutting the number of homeless and housing-insecure children in Orange County in half.

SH: What inspired you to set these ambitious goals?

MG: Our research process revealed such startling data that we felt compelled to act. When you are confronted with the facts that nearly 4,000 Orange County students drop out of high school; more than 750,000 Orange County residents, almost one in four, live in poverty; one third of our children are overweight or obese and nearly 30,000 of Orange County children are classified as homeless or housing insecure, it was a wake-up call, and a call to action. And act is exactly what we did.

SH: What progress have you seen so far?

MG: It’s been less than a year since we rolled out this effort, but we’ve already established exciting collaborative partnerships with city and county governments, schools and nonprofit organizations as well as tens of thousands of business leaders and community donors. By bringing together these stakeholders and focusing them on our community’s most-pressing needs, we’re confident we will succeed.

SH: What are your greatest hopes for Orange County in 2024?

MG: When 2024 rolls around, all of us at United Way hope we will see an Orange County in which the next generation of residents are thriving because they’ve grown up with a solid education, healthy lifestyle, solid financial base and a stable home. It won’t be easy. But nothing worth doing ever is.

To learn more about United Way’s FACE 2024 and how you can get involved, visit unitedwayoc.org.

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Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at shoss@oc-cf.org.

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