The Big Reach: Jim Ayres, Lending a Helping Hand

 In Blog

Jim Ayres strikes me as being equal parts CEO and missionary.

As the executive director of United Way of Hampshire County, Jim has terrific strategic know-how that he uses to guide his board of directors in long-term planning. Yet, he also has a quiet, roll-up-your-sleeves and get-right-down-in-it determination.

Working to build bridges and form connections comes naturally to Jim. Working to improve lives does as well. His mission in his work with United Way is to ensure that all members of the community have the opportunity to thrive.

Working with Judith Kelliher, and Ruth Griggs and Maureen Scanlon of The Creative, I have written or edited the stories on the pages of the United Way’s campaign report for the past two years. We highlight the work and inspiration of United Way volunteers, board members and members of the community who have benefited from the agency’s good work. Without fail, when interviewing these people, Jim’s name comes up again and again.

It was Jim, for instance, who reached out his hand – and that of the United Way – to Hadley business owners after a fire destroyed their livelihood in October 2013. “Heaven sent” is how restaurant owner Chuong Son described Jim’s phone call to him, offering assistance. Jim simply asked, “How can we help?”

Jim, the missionary.

Jim leads by experience. With his quiet energy and determination, he directs our United Way in focusing on building relationships because it is through its connections that the organization changes lives. Jim partners with programs that fulfill United Way’s dedication to improved quality of life in the areas of economic security, health and safety, and children and youth. When community challenges are multi-faceted, he applies the strength of United Way’s partners in collaboration with one another.

In his three years with our United Way, Jim has carefully evaluated how the organization can do the most good in the region, restructured how partner grants are offered and retooled requirements for receipt of those grants. This year, under Jim’s guidance, the United Way raised over $1.25 million from 3,700 supporters, and it will invest those funds locally to inspire hope, build opportunity and change lives.

Jim, the CEO.

Jim is known for his strength in leadership. Recently, the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network, the statewide organization that unites and strengthens the nonprofit sector through advocacy, public awareness and capacity-building, appointed Jim to its board of directors.

Before coming on at United Way, Jim served for 12 years as executive director of the Northampton-based Center for New Americans, an education and resource center for immigrants, refugees and other limited English speakers in western Massachusetts. He has worked extensively with local and state governments, community coalitions and workforce boards to develop policy and programming.

Jim holds master’s degrees from the Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political issues in education at Hampshire College.

As a storyteller for our United Way – and a supporter as well – I am appreciative that Jim is at the organization’s helm, and I invite you to find a way to become part of an agency that works to change lives for thousands in our local community, whether you are a CEO or missionary.

At the 2015 United Way campaign kick-off breakfast in September, Jim invited us all to invest in the community with our time and talents. I recommend you accept his invitation to donate or volunteer.

Photo Credit: Paul Shoul

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