The United Way of Pekin has a new executive director with extensive skills in fundraising and marketing and a lot of enthusiasm.

The United Way Board chose a Pekin native for the post, Aaron J. Lohnes. He was born in Indiana but grew up in Pekin. He is a 1995 graduate of PCHS. He started training for the post on July 24. Lohnes has a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Western Illinois University.

Former Executive Director Greg Ranney will stay on to train Lohnes until Aug. 11 to help him get up to speed on the upcoming campaign, programs and other aspects of the position. Ranney said the campaign kickoff breakfast is at 7 a.m. Aug. 24 at Pekin Community High School.

It was after college that Lohnes learned more about giving back to the community.

“That’s when I got involved with some non-profits,” said Lohnes. “It was due to some family illnesses.

“I started off being a volunteer and doing some fundraising. Then I got involved with the American Cancer Society as a staff member and pretty much most of my career has been spent in the non-profit field since then.”
Lohnes spent six years with the American Cancer Society where he said he “learned a lot about volunteers, recruiting, training, motivating and a lot about fundraising in a lot of different aspects, whether it’s boots on the ground stuff or high level asking.”

“When I interviewed with the executive board I told them I sleep better when I’m doing something like this,” he said. “The other thing that I liked about the United Way specifically was that when I started looking at some of their priority areas and where they land in some of the programs that we fund, they’re long-term results based as opposed to putting a Band-aid on something.

“These are hopefully programs that will lead to long-term results, not only good for the families and individuals we help, but also for the community and the town and then the general area. It’s great to be able to give somebody a bag of food for the week. That’s great and it’s needed, but if at the same time we give them some financial education, that helps them not be in that spot anymore, gets them to a point where they’re doing better and feeling better about themselves and hopefully that just perpetuates itself.”

After graduating from Western Illinois University, Lohnes went back to the campus and started a Relay for Life event as a representative of the American Cancer Society.

“I was tasked with starting a brand new Relay for Life on a college campus, which they were just starting to happen then,” Lohnes said. “My first goal was to try to recruit a committee and I lucked into some really good volunteers.

“I had some people there who to this day are some of the favorite people I’ve ever worked with. Our first year we raised a very good amount. We raised $14,000. I was excited about that and the committee was excited. It was a small event. I think there were maybe 14 teams. It wasn’t very big. The second year we grew to 44 teams and raised a little over $41,000. So that was big for me. For me it’s always going to be a source of pride. Number one, it was my school, and two, it was largely all volunteers I recruited and trained.”

Lohnes plans to hit the ground running and bring Pekin youth along with him. A PCHS student was added to the board two years ago.

“For me, it’s making sure that I’m being out there,” he said. “I know Greg, as he’s said, has left no stone unturned for the last three years.

“I’m going to be turning them over again. So if you’ve not been asked to help the United Way lately, go ahead and plan on it. One of the things personally — youth involvement is an untapped resource a lot of times. It sounds like we already have a good relationship with (District’s) 303 and 108. I want to make sure we’re utilizing that the best we can, and not necessarily fundraising all the time. Some of these kids have skills and skill sets that I don’t have, we don’t have and they can bring things to the table maybe we’re not thinking of.”

Follow Sharon Woods Harris at Twitter.com/sharrispekin