United Way of the Coastal Empire had much to celebrate in its 83rd Annual Meeting Luncheon. Outgoing Board Chair Larry Silbermann reflected on the great achievements the organization has accomplished in the last year through the generosity and resilience from more than 13,000 individuals, companies, and organizations.


The organization also welcomed Jeff O’Connor of First Citizens Bank as new board chair and Cecilia Russo Turner of Cecilia Russo Marketing as new campaign chair. The Annual Meeting was held at the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort and Spa with limited attendance.

“I am honored to be the next campaign chair of the United Way of the Coastal Empire. So many I respect and admire have gone before me. And as I have spoken to many of them, one thing is clear: no one does it alone,” said Russo Turner. “The success of our 2021 campaign depends on all of us. We can do this: Forward United!”

Silbermann expressed gratitude to volunteers for their dedicated service to the community through United Way and proudly shared the work the organization has done throughout the past year.  Some highlights of United Way’s achievements include:

  • Raised more than $675,000 for COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund to help more than 2,000 residents with rent, mortgage, and utility payments beginning in March 2020, long before federal assistance was available.
  • Distributed $3.6 million in grants to 54 non-profit agencies and 82 programs and helped an estimated 200,000 people in our four-county area. Partner agencies were also offered emergency assistance grants and valuable access to experts to aid in their navigation of the enormous impacts of the pandemic. 
  • Partnered with the City of Savannah and Chatham County to deliver housing assistance with funds available through the CARES Act.  United Way continues to partner with Chatham County to administer the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program. United Way continues to partner with Chatham County to administer the. Through these federally funded programs, United Way has helped to support more than 7,400 people in crisis.
  • Answered 35,000 inquiries for assistance from local citizens in need of help through United Way 2-1-1 call center and Bryan, Effingham, and Liberty county service centers. United Way 2-1-1 is a free, confidential helpline and one of our community’s most valuable resources.
  • Completed a Strategic Planning process that engaged more than 400 community members representing all of United Way of the Coastal Empire’s constituencies. Through collective action, the organization seeks to make a measurable, lasting impact with clear goals and a more intentional focus on Safety Net and Upward Mobility. 

During the event, Outgoing Board Chair Larry Silbermann presented the Craig Harney’s Spirit of Philanthropy Awards to three extraordinary individuals: Nathan Benson of Chatham County Government, Dr. Sandra Wallace Nethels of Effingham County School District, and the late Freddie Patrick of Eastside Concerned Citizens. These awards recognize exemplary individuals for their excellence in giving, advocating, and volunteering for United Way. 

The business portion of the Annual Meeting continued with the election of 20 new community leaders to serve on the Board of Directors, as well as its slate of executive committee members for 2021.  

The new board members are Dr. Tonia Howard-Hall, Community Volunteer; Jill Cheeks, The Mediation Center; Judge Lisa Colbert, Chatham County Superior Court; Andrew Cosey, Austin Hill Realty; Dr. Yancy Ford, Effingham County Board of Education; Ben Hart, WJCL-TV; Stephanie Jones-Heath, Diversity Health Center; Libby Kessler, Lakeview Manor; Bob Klausmeier, Renfroe Outdoor; Sarah Lippert, Ameris Bank; Sam McCachern, Thomas & Hutton; Nick Jennings, Georgia Power; Ryan Price, JE Dunn Construction; Ken Rabitsch, Synovus; Cindy Robinett, Sterling Seacrest Pritchard; Pritpal Singh, Perry Lane Hotel; Julia Tyre, Memorial Health; Patrick Wall, St. Joseph/Candler; Alderman Linda Wilder-Bryan, City of Savannah; and Judge Derek White, Chatham County State Court.


The 2021 board executive committee is:

Board Chair: Jeff O’Connor – First Citizens Bank

Board Vice-Chair: Mark Bennett – Gulfstream Aerospace  

Immediate Past Board Chair: Larry Silbermann – WTOC-TV  

Secretary: Michael Kaigler, Chatham County  

Treasurer: Marc Hefner, WSAV-TV

Campaign Chair: Cecilia Russo Turner – Cecilia Russo Marketing

Campaign Vice-Chair: Cindy Robinett, Sterling Seacrest Pritchard

Community Investments Chair: Dr. Michael Toma – Georgia Southern University  

Direct Services Chair: Stephanie Jones-Heath, Diversity Health Center

Volunteer Chair: Ryan Sewell – Sterling Seacrest Pritchard  

Marketing Chair: Jason Usry – WJCL-TV  

Race, Equity, Opportunity Chair: Kimberly Ballard-Washington, Savannah State University

Strategic Plan Chair: Ken Rabitsch, Synovus

At-Large Members: 

Chief Terry Enoch – Savannah-Chatham County Public School System  

Taffanye Young – City of Savannah  

Ryan Chandler – Colonial Group

Jamie McCurry – Georgia Ports Authority  

2021 Board Chair Jeff O’Connor shared the organization’s vision of the future. “We look forward to continuing to build upon the tremendous legacy of the United Way in our community, putting even greater focus on building stronger, deeper, and wider community partnerships,” said O’Connor. “We are elevating our commitment to equity. Through collective action, we seek to make measurable, lasting impact with clear goals and more intentional focus on Safety Net and Upward Mobility.”

For more information about United Way of the Coastal Empire, visit www.uwce.org.


Based in Savannah, Georgia, Cecilia Russo Marketing is a boutique firm delivering trusted and successful results since its founding in 2008. President and founder Cecilia Russo Turner is a native of Savannah and uniquely understands the local and regional trends of brand-building strategies and reputation management while leveraging traditional and social platforms to engage with key publics and consistently exceed client expectations. For more information, call 912-665-0005 or visit ceciliarussomarketing.com.


Cynthia Cradduck

Cecilia Russo Marketing