The United Way of Greater Lorain County didn’t have far to go to find a replacement for its retiring leader.
Ryan Aroney, currently the marketing and engagement director for the agency, will take over as president and CEO later this year, the agency announced Wednesday.
Current Executive Director Bill Harper announced in March that he plans to retire Nov. 27 after nine years as executive director and a 40-year career in social work.
Aroney, 35, who lives with his wife Stacey in Lakewood, will take over the role Dec. 1.
Aroney said it wasn’t until a year or so ago that he started thinking that maybe he should seek the top job. “Other people were saying it to me, asking if I was going to replace Bill,” he said Wednesday.
Aroney then approached Harper about a year ago, asking what he’d need to know and develop to become the CEO at some point. Harper does continuous improvement plans for staff, and this came up during his, Aroney said.
“I’m passionate about my work, I’m from Lorain County and I have a trusting relationship with the board,” he said.
For Aroney, “it wasn’t like jumping into the deep end,” Harpers aid. “He was certainly qualified, but did he want it? It’s a great job but it’s not for everybody.”
Keith Brown, chairman of the United Way of Greater Lorain County’s Board of Directors, said Aroney gave such good answers to the questions at his interview that some board members thought he had secretly cheated (All candidates for the job received the questions 15 minutes ahead of their interviews, Brown noted).
“Ryan did so exceptionally well that some members joked ‘Did he receive the questions in advance?’” Brown said, laughing.
Brown said it was Aroney’s “great examples” in response to the questions asked in his interview that were “etched in executive committee members’ minds” and led to him getting the job. Harper said Aroney’s writing and communication abilities also placed him above the rest.
All 57 competitors for the job were top-notch, Harper said, and six were sent additional questions. Four finalists were interviewed.
Harper said Aroney’s selection “was not a slam dunk.”
“It was a grueling selection process,” he said. But Aroney “pretty much wowed” the executive committee, who knew after the first round of interviews he was the one, Brown said.
Aroney said he plans to “put time and effort into how to put our best foot forward” at the community support organization, which supports the health, education and financial stability of low-income families and residents of Lorain County.
He said there are great advantages to the work but also great challenges ahead.
“Following Bill really teed it up for me,” said Aroney, who has been with the United Way of Greater Lorain County in several roles since 2011, including development associate and his current role of marketing and engagement director that he took over in February 2014.
With Harper’s coaching and advice, he said he hopes to grow partnerships and increase funding to continue “protecting things that are important to us, working on goals collaboratively and connecting donors and volunteers to the work” the agency does.
Aroney is a graduate of Oberlin High School, Lorain County Community College and Cleveland State University. He currently is working on his MBA from Lake Erie College.
Growing up in a single-parent home, Aroney rode the bus every day to LCCC to earn his degree – the first in his mother’s family to do so, he said – paying his own way through. Once out of college, he got laid off a good-paying job.
“I grew up in poverty right here in Lorain County. This is not just a job for me, it is personal,” he wrote in the news release accompanying Wednesday’s announcement. “I know firsthand that there are people out there working hard to get out of a hole that they did not create. And I want to ensure they have an easier and more systematic path to digging out than I did.”
He added Wednesday that his background “is so perfectly aligned with everything we do, it definitely fuels me. I’m not just trying to raise money. I’m trying to change that person’s future.”
Prior to joining the United Way, Aroney worked in media relations, athletic administration and as a freelance journalist. He graduated with the Leadership Lorain County’s class of 2014 and is a member of the Rotary Club of Oberlin, where he held past leadership positions on the board of directors.
He was selected in 2015 by United Way Worldwide to present at the National Community Leaders Conference on his work leading local fitness collaboration United We Sweat; was accepted into the United Way Worldwide Leaders Engaged in Accelerated Development Program in 2018; was named to the CSU Young Alumni Council’s 5 Under 35 in 2017, Rotary International’s 40 Under 40 in 2016 and HandsOn Northeast Ohio’s Lorain County Volunteer of the Year in 2015 and 2016.
Harper said Aroney will be a great leader because he keeps learning, applies himself, develops good relationships in the community, has integrity and “gets the work done.” Explaining how the United Way works and will work with partner businesses and agencies, Harper said, is Aroney’s strongest asset.
With guidance from the board of directors, who recently finished refreshing the agency’s strategic plan, Aroney will apply his unique strengths to the job for more collaboration and more impact, Harper said.
“I appreciate the trust that our staff and board have shown in me and I promise to work hard, listen to the community, and always keep in mind the best interests of those we serve,” Aroney said. “There isn’t a person on Earth who cares more about United Way of Greater Lorain County than I do. I’ve given my heart and soul to United Way for the past eight years because of how deeply I care about the mission and how closely connected my personal life is to our work.”