CAPITOLA — New United Way of Santa Cruz County Executive Director Keisha Frost was a fifth-grader when the local United Way brought in Boy and Girl Scout programs to her community.
The organization’s efforts proved to be a pivotal moment in her life.
“I had a safe space and caring adults every day of school,” she said.
When United Way helped establish a track-and-field program at Frost’s school, she found her passion. She was named the third-fastest hurdler in the state of California in high school, a career that peaked when she went to the 1996 Olympic Games.
“I’ve dedicated my professional life to paying it forward,” she said. “I was there because United Way brought those programs to my school.”
Frost will take the helm of the 76-year-old organization on Jan. 1, after Mary Lou Goeke retires.
“I am humbled, and I am ready to partner with the Board of Directors and the community in new ways of investing in and addressing our social challenges,” she said.
This includes affordable housing, access to health services and helping young people graduate and prepare for the workforce, Frost said.
In addition, United Way has also tasked itself with tackling homelessness among young people, and with helping those who are aging out of the foster care system, Frost said.
Part of her challenge will be tapping into the population of millennials whose income frequently does not allow them to donate, but whose passion for such causes inspires them to get involved in other ways, Frost said.
With that in mind, Frost created the organization’s Emerging Leaders Circle three years ago, which meets monthly to discuss pertinent topics.
“Times are changing,” she said. “I’m showing them how they can be philanthropists.”
Frost praised Goeke, who she described as an “amazing mentor.”
“One thing I love about her is how much she cares about people,” she said.
Frost has served as Director of Fund Development for the Santa Cruz United Way for five years. Before that, she spent two years at the Trident United Way in Charleston, S.C.