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Packing it in
06/22/2014 - By John Austin/features@trcle.com - Cleburne Times Review
Measuring what Dianne Packwood has accomplished on the job is easy.

Since she came aboard as executive director, United Way of Johnson County’s annual goal rose from $250,000 to $475,000 in 2013.

The agency met or exceeded its annual goal in eight of those years, raising nearly $4 million. And while the recession cut Americans’ charitable donations 7 percent in 2008 and another 6.2 percent in 2009, giving to the Johnson County United Way rose in those years.

Packwood, who is retiring at the end of June, down plays the suggestion that she is some sort of magician.

“Let’s not put any smoke and mirrors on it,” Packwood said, explaining how the agency did so well during tough times. “It was oil and gas.”

Whatever the reason, when Aly Engstrom takes over next month, she’ll walk into an agency with a six-month operating reserve.

Of course, in a job that focuses on helping people, the bottom line doesn’t tell the whole story, even though allocating money is a key United Way mission.

Packwood likes to quote 19th-century novelist and essayist Charles Dudley Warner when she sums up her motivation for working at a not-for-profit.

“It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life,” Packwood says, citing the passage from memory, “that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”

The agency has helped a lot of people besides Packwood on her watch: Because corporate support covers most of the overhead, Packwood said about 90 percent of donations go to delivering services.

In profiling Packwood when she was the Times-Review woman of the year in 2011, reporter Pete Kendall wrote that multiple sclerosis shaped her life.

“Multiple sclerosis was little more than a bump in the road in Dianne Packwood’s life,” he wrote. “In so many ways, it paved a smooth way into her future.”


Kendall went on to illustrate how Packwood’s background in raising money for MS research led the Ellis County native to the United Way.

Packwood, who had worked in inventory control at Rangeaire before taking a buyout, survived and thrived, despite MS, thanks to medical science.

That has not changed.

“My health is stable,” said Packwood, leaning back in her office, which is in a small building on Featherstone Street, near the Guinn Justice Center in Cleburne. “My husband retired at the end of February.

“It’s time to enjoy some things while our health is good: enjoy our family, do some traveling.”

A colorful print of a San Francisco cable car hangs behind Packwood’s desk. It’s one of the as-yet-unvisited destinations she wants to see in person.

And, she said, “I want to be able to do some more hands-on volunteering. I want to be able to pick and choose.”

She will have plenty to pick and choose from. The new United Way of Johnson County brochure lists 21 agencies that are slated to receive allocations 2014 allocations.

About two years ago, Lori Rose decided she wanted to organize a charitable event.

“I knew I wanted to do a 5K,” said Rose, who teaches biology and nutrition at the Hill College Johnson County Campus, “but I didn’t know who I wanted the proceeds to go to.”

She got in touch with Packwood. Packwood suggested starting the United Way Student Leaders at the Cleburne campus.

“We’re a student subset of the United Way,” Rose said. “As soon as she planted that seed it just grew.”

In the four semesters since, the student leaders have staged a 5K called the Run for Shelter, a dodgeball tournament and a silent auction. They also sold concessions at Downtown Cleburne Association’s annual Springfest.


Rose estimates that 30 to 35 students have participated in the United Way Student Leaders so far.

“The last two years, the student leaders have been able to give away $2,000,” to organizations including Meals-on-Wheels of Johnson and Ellis Counties, Rose said. “It’s been amazing to watch their transformation.

“It was completely her idea,” Rose said. “She’s amazing.”

Packwood doesn’t claim to re-invent the wheel. The United Way Student Leaders concept, for example, was something she learned was working for other agencies; she simply brought the concept to Johnson County.

She also planted the United Way Youth Board for high school students who want to get into some charitable work.

Packwood’s work with young people didn’t stop there.

“In 2007, Dianne Packwood began working with Cook Children’s to improve children’s health, and has helped us to understand the key health issues faced by children in Johnson County,” Mark Heilman, regional outreach coordinator for The Center for Children’s Health wrote in an email. “She facilitated partnerships throughout the county when the Johnson County Alliance for Healthy Kids led by Cook Children’s formed in 2009, and has continued to be a key member by helping the coalition to promote healthy lifestyles for children. We greatly appreciate her as both a professional partner for children’s health and as a reliable friend to the coalition.”

And as Packwood said, she doesn’t intend to quit helping, even though she’s retiring. It’s a passion, not just a paycheck.

“When I was let go from Rangeaire I thought I was just going to check my options.” Packwood said. “I had no idea what all was going on until I took this position. For 11 and a half years that I’ve done this, it’s been my heart and soul.”
On the web: CleburneTimesReview.com

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