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Daniel Hyland
Donna Simmons

Westerly woman wins appointment to United Way of Rhode Island board

PROVIDENCE — Donna Simmons, the only female member of Bluff Avenue LLC — the group behind the preservation and restoration of Watch Hill’s iconic Ocean House — was named to the board of directors of The United Way of Rhode Island during the organization’s 87th annual meeting Tuesday night.

“I am humbled, honored and proud to become a board member of the United Way of Rhode Island,” said Simmons, a Watch Hill resident. “It is an organization that has proven over and over that it can mobilize the caring power of our local communities to improve the lives of people in need.”

Locally, Simmons co-chairs, along with Nancy Loney, an initiative called Opening Doors for Westerly’s Children. It was created about a year ago to promote childhood literacy and support out-of-school programs.

Loney called Simmons’ appointment “wonderful and important.”

“I’m just thrilled. Donna will be a great addition,” Loney said Wednesday night. “Everything she does she does well; she’s bright and she’s interesting and it will be wonderful to have a Westerly representative on the big United Way board.”

Simmons said that the United Way “provided the kindling” to ignite the local children initiative, which also provides backpacks, scholarships for summer learning programs and opportunities for volunteering and tutoring in Westerly’s after-school programs.

The programs, said Simmons, are “all aimed at giving our children of Westerly the best chance of learning at, and after, school.”

“Our volunteers feel that they get as much out of the program as do the children,” Simmons said. “It is truly a win-win equation for all involved.”

Loney said the initiative began when she and Simmons became aware of the number of Westerly children who had no books in their homes.

“Donna and I were so appalled that we sat down and wrote to our friends,” she said. “We wrote to 150 people and the response was amazing.”

They collected nearly 800 books for 90 children. The pair didn’t stop there. The following year they raised more than $8,000 to provide 140 children with new books and backpacks loaded with school supplies, and they got others to join the team. Last year the group raised $10,000 for scholarships for children in need of academic support.

Simmons was not the only local honoree at Tuesday’s meeting, which was held at the Providence Art Club and highlighted the organization’s work of the past year and presented community leadership awards.

The Washington Trust Company received the 2013 Corporate Partnership Award, recognition for its longstanding relationship and numerous contributions to the United Way. For nearly a decade, the Westerly-based financial company has raised more than $200,000 each year between corporate and employee giving. Washington Trust’s top executives and managers have supported the United Way’s annual campaign with leadership gifts increasing in each of the past three years. The company is also represented on the United Way’s board and Resource Development Committee, Young Leaders Circle and Women’s Leadership Council, and in book and school supply drives and other volunteer activities.

Joseph J. MarcAurele, Washington Trust’s chairman, president and CEO, accepted the award, saying, “For more than two centuries, Washington Trust and its employees have been committed to assisting the people who live and work in the communities we serve. We are proud to receive this award in recognition of our efforts.”

The new chairwoman of the United Way’s board is Mim Runey, president of the Providence campus and chief operatiing officer for Johnson & Wales University. The outgoing chairwoman, Barbara J. Silvis, is vice president of loss prevention web resources at FM Global; she will continue to serve on the board.

Simmons replaces Mark J. Meiklejohn, president and CEO of BankRI, who retired from the board.

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