Heart of West Michigan United Way's Noe ready for bigger stage

January 14, 2011
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In a little bit of karma, Maureen Noe’s first day on the job as the new president and CEO of the Heart of West Michigan United Way is on St. Valentine’s Day.

“Isn’t that interesting how that worked out? We’ll have fun with that,” said Noe, who is taking on a bigger community and bigger budget than the ones she leaves behind at the Butler County United Way in Hamilton, Ohio.

Butler County United Way has a budget under $2 million, compared to the $16 million budget at the Heart of West Michigan United Way, 118 Commerce Ave. SW. The area served by the Butler County United Way has a population of 270,000, compared to an estimated 608,000 in Kent County.

“The opportunity to expand my skills to a United Way that has additional resources, that’s appealing,” said Noe, who becomes the first woman to head the local United Way. “The Grand Rapids community culture of collaboration and entrepreneurial spirit is appealing to me. It just seems like it’s United Way that’s saying, ‘Great things are on the horizon. Let’s get it done.’ I’d like to be part of that.”

In Ohio, Noe was instrumental in developing an education program for a changing community.

“It’s an initiative we started here, responding to a very affluent community that had an influx of families come in that were living in poverty,” she said. “They basically came to the United Way and said, we’re not equipped to deal with the variety of issues and barriers to learning that they are bringing in. But we want to help them.

“So we built a program called the School Success program. Basically we hired community liaisons that go in and work with the families and the children. It’s elementary-based. It removes the non-cognitive barriers so that kids can learn. Proficiency scores are going up, absentee rates are going down. Behavioral instances are reduced.’

The program’s results were studied by Miami University, she added.

“The state has learned about this program and it’s now in the best practice registrar of examples of how you can increase test scores.”

After a childhood filled with travel, Noe has lived in the Hamilton area for 26 years.

“My parents were missionaries and I was born in Africa,” she explained. “Then my father worked for international companies, so we traveled the country as well as abroad.”

Her family eventually settled in Ohio, where her grandparents lived. Noe said she attended Miami University and stayed in the area when she married Mark Noe, whose family has deep roots there.

The Noes have a daughter, a sophomore at Bluffton University in Ohio, and a son who is a junior in high school.

“We are anxiously awaiting the next chapter of our family’s life in Grand Rapids,” Noe added.

“Maureen is a seasoned United Way executive who is known for her strategic leadership skills and strong fundraising background,” said Kate Pew Wolters, who led the search committee. “We feel she will be a tremendous asset to our community.”

Noe replaces Interim President Bert Bleke, former superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools, who filled in after the departure of Robert Haight. Bleke will stay on until the end of February to help with Noe’s transition.

In addition to Wolters, the search committee included Deb Bailey, director of corporate relations, Steelcase Inc.; Assistant Kent County Administrator Wayman Britt; Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids CEO Kathy Crosby; Sean Egan, business manager and financial secretary at IBEW Local 275; Frey Foundation Program Officer Lynne Ferrell; Hispanic Center of Western Michigan CEO Martha Gonzalez-Cortes; Robert L. Herr, former managing partner at Crowe Horwath LLP; and Louis H. Moran II, managing partner at Deloitte and chair of the Heart of West Michigan United Way board.

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