Posted by: Jeff Chernoff on Friday, January 8, 2021


If you have graduated from Leadership Tampa within the last sixteen years, chances are you know Kari Goetz. Either as a classmate (LT ’18, Gr8teen), or as the person who led the name game ice breaker at the Leadership Tampa Retreat each year since 2004. If you graduated from LT prior to then, maybe you know Kari for her various roles on Tampa stages, most memorably as “Sylvia the Dog,” at Stageworks Theatre. If you don’t know, Kari has been an active member of the Tampa Bay Community working in a variety of companies and environments, and with some of the greatest leaders in Tampa Bay in both the for profit and not for profit world. Her resume reads like a checklist of a Tampa Bay Economic Development Scavenger Hunt: Tampa Bay Chamber (when it was the Greater Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce Committee of 100), Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa International Airport,The Florida Aquarium, and most recently United Way Suncoast. Kari finds there to be quite a few similarities between the for profit and not for profit world with one notable exception: talent acquisition. “The biggest challenge is often being able to identify talent and acquire it quickly. In the private sector you can find someone with talent and create a role for them. In the non-profit world there are leaner budgets, and flatter org charts. It’s about employee retention in the non-profit space.” Kari has had the opportunity to work for several dynamic people who have one thing in common: impatient visionaries who desire revolutionary change. Her list of supervisors includes Robin De La Vergne, Judy Lisi, Joe Lopano, Roger Germann, and most recently Jessica Muroff. In fact, it was working for Jessica which brought her to the United Way Suncoast., but it seems like her entire career had been building to this opportunity.

“My connection to the United Way begins with my job at the Chamber. I worked for Kim Sheeler (Greater Tampa Bay Chamber CEO) and he came from United Way Hillsborough. When I was working at Tampa International Airport, I created the 5K on the Runway and 100% of proceeds go to United Way Suncoast. Jessica made an immediate impact naming Bemetra Simmons as COO three months prior. It’s a profoundly cool place to go to work every day!” When most people hear of United Way, they often think of the organization as a pathway or simply overseeing a corporate campaign. Kari says there is so much more to this organization. “We have real boots on the ground initiatives including three community centers (Sulphur Springs, Campbell Park, and North Greenwood). At these centers we provide wrap around services from food distribution to, financial assistance, and employment services. We partner with schools and community centers across Hillsborough, Pinellas, Sarasota, DeSoto and Manatee counties to provide early childhood development programs including kindergarten readiness and grade level reading. United Way Suncoast is committed to financial well being for the communities we serve. The Volunteer Initiative Tax Assessment (VITA is a free tax filing service for those who make less than $66,000 a year. We provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax free services resulting in millions of dollars in tax returns. These are United Way led initiatives and a lot of people just don’t know about them. They still think of United Way as a funding source for other nonprofits, and while we do that and it’s a big part of our organization, it’s not all we do.”

What is also unique about the United Way Suncoast is their ability to respond to a crisis facing our community. “With the pandemic, there is about to be a housing crisis in terms of evictions, and there are a series of different groups and organizations trying to keep our neighbors in their home.” Kari brought up a frightening statistic in this regard: “If you go to court due to an eviction notice with an attorney present you have an 80% chance of being able to be able to stay in your home. Without an attorney, this number falls to 6%.” United Way partners with Bay Area Legal Services and Community Law Program (in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties) and Legal Aid Manasota in Sarasota, Manatee, and DeSoto Counties.

As a member of LTA, there are several things you can do to help your community through United Way Suncoast including having a campaign at your workplace or volunteer as a company if you don’t want to give a financial contribution and would rather provide some sweat equity. For Kari, the why you should help is just as important as the how you can help. “In our region, United Way is the best use of your dollar and of your time. We are a convener. We have the best, the brightest, and the most effective strategic community partners and initiatives to solve the community’s most pressing issues. Our ability to react to crisis, while still working to solve the underlying issues of systemic poverty makes us a regional leader. It’s a perfect fit for what LTA is and stands for according to Kari, “LTA members invest in the human capital and the infrastructure of our community. It goes beyond networking. LTA convenes around what makes things better and solving problems in the community. That’s exactly what United Way Suncoast strives for everyday.”