Giving hearts, wanted: Sapulpa’s new United Way chair sees potential all over town

Tawni Vickers radiates passion and energy for her hometown when speaking about becoming this year’s chair of the Tulsa Area United Way (TAUW) campaign for Sapulpa. It’s hard not to get excited about Sapulpa’s potential and opportunities when speaking with her. 

She said she recently heard a friend say that Sapulpa’s TAUW campaign needed a little help, so true to her nature, she quickly volunteered. She didn’t realize she volunteered herself to be the chair of the city’s entire campaign with a $275K goal. 

And because Vickers fought for more time to fundraise, Sapulpa has no hard deadline like in years past. This creates opportunities for events such as a New Year’s Eve bash at the Elks Lodge, that she is considering. 

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Tawni Vickers poses for a photo outside Martha’s Corner in downtown Sapulpa. Vickers is the new chair for the local Tulsa Area United Way campaign.

Vickers has a committee, but she is aware that the chairman has the onus to come up with new ideas and to steer the entire campaign. “I’ll never feel qualified for that,” she admits, “but I’m excited and honored to be a part of it, because ultimately this town raised me to be who I am, and my passion for it is something fierce and I want to give back to it in any way.” 

She emphasizes her main message, which is, “If I can do this, so can anyone…You don’t have to be known and prestigious and older to ‘make a difference.’ My goal is to help UW make money, but it’s also to show people how their efforts make an impact in their community.” 

To this end, Vickers is advocating a shift away from a more “corporate” campaign to a more grass roots-type of campaign involving donations that are perhaps smaller in amount, but larger in number, and attracting new volunteers who have ideas, time, passion, and skills, and not just dollars. 

“So many younger people don’t have corporate jobs anymore, so they can’t do the corporate giving. We have to make a shift to where the community can still be involved and make a difference, and not be held to that corporate standard.” 

That brings us to another important goal of Vickers’s, which is tapping into a new pool of donors. “There are so many people in Sapulpa who have the heart and the time and the ideas, but maybe don’t know how to get involved. Or even know what UW is and how it affects our town. We just have to get those people in the same room, so to speak, and let them know their opinions matter. There is untapped potential in people who care, who want to be involved, and there’s no reason we should not be opening our arms to them and saying ‘Please come help us.’ We need it all.” 

“If you have $5 a month to contribute, that’s worth it. That’s important. We can make such a difference here.”

Vickers wants every Sapulpan to know that the money given to the campaign isn’t just, say, $100. TAUW adds to that money based on your community’s needs. So if you give, say, $100 to TAUW for Youth Services of Creek County, that money may get doubled or tripled or more, and YSCC may actually get $400 back. “People don’t know that and want to give directly,” says Vickers, “but in the long run, the partner agencies get more if it’s given directly to TAUW. That’s so important for people to know.” 

There will also be a new impetus in getting the younger generation involved in philanthropy. Vickers is concerned when she notes the absence of those in their teens or 20s at events and meetings. “Historically it’s been the same people and the same donors, and while those people are rockstars because they do it every year and do it well, we need new, fresh faces.

Those people have given their heart and time and they’re almost done. That time is coming. We have to start educating young donors now, or we’re going to be in a world of hurt.” 

Vickers stresses our changing world and environment and says it is time to embrace technology and innovative ideas. “We’ve never lived in a time where we’re in a pandemic like right now; we’ve got to change the way we’re thinking.” For example, this year the traditional Bankers and Burgers event that usually kicks off Sapulpa’s campaign had to be canceled, and other familiar ways of fundraising, like bake sales, are also out of the question. “There are so many things we can’t do, but so many we can. New ideas are awesome! If you think it’s silly, still bring it to me. We can make it happen. I don’t think any idea is a bad idea. We have to fill those gaps with new ideas.”

Sapulpa is simply different from other communities, Vickers believes. “It’s an exciting time to be here. We are growing…and we’re taking such huge strides, so we also need to take strides in showing people why giving back is important, instead of saying ‘You have to do this, or else.’ Give people the passion for it, and show them how they’re making a difference. That’s why UW is so important to me now. Something little can turn into something so big and you don’t even realize it.” 

Vickers has been with SeneGence for almost four years. She began in customer service and quickly promoted to a position in the Public Affairs department where she works with community leaders Ted Fisher and Mark Lawson. 

She says she initially took the job because she “wants any chance to be involved in this town.” It’s important to her “to have a voice in this town, to have a voice for people who don’t come to meetings…It’s so important to me to give back. I was voted ‘Most Spirited’ in high school, and here I am planning [the SHS Pink Out] game. It fulfills me in a way I didn’t know I needed.”

Sapulpa has 4 “homegrown” United Way partner agencies, including Youth Services of Creek County, Caring Community Friends, Creek County Literacy, and SHOW, Inc., and 6 others that are part of larger organizations. So your donation to TAUW has 10 ways to come back to your hometown, or you can ask for your gift to be earmarked for a specific local organization.  

For more information and to donate with the click of a button, please visit the Sapulpa United Way Campaign Facebook page. 100% of the proceeds go to Tulsa Area United Way.