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Charitable giving and its importance to the community were highlighted during an interview Friday with Jerry Ethridge, staff manager for the associate director for weapons physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
In March, Ethridge was elected president of the Board of Trustees for the United Way of Northern New Mexico serving Los Alamos and Rio Arriba counties.
Under his leadership, the nonprofit organization successfully completed its annual fundraising campaign in November raising more than $2 million - an increase of more than $200,000 over the previous year.
During United Way's recent campaign recognition dinner, Ethridge thanked a group of special donors for increasing their giving by some 30 percent.
"I'm really pleased that while we're seeing a decline in the number of givers, at the same time we are seeing an increase in the amount of the donations we're receiving," he said. "I'd like to encourage more interest on the part of the community - the non-laboratory segment."
Ethridge credits United Way Executive Director Donna Schroeder with cultivating additional volunteers and donors. "Donna's done a great job of including people from the valley and the tribes," he said. "It's also been a benefit to have people join our board from outside communities such as UNM-LA Executive Director Cedric Page, Los Alamos Medical Center CEO Sandra Podley and Donna. They've all come from out of state and bring new ideas and innovations that worked on their previous boards."
Ethridge explained that United Way has benefited greatly since Los Alamos National Security assumed management of the Laboratory and initiated its matching funds program. LANS annually matches whatever amount is raised up to $1 million.
"In looking at giving patterns before and after the LANS match - we are seeing our donors be a little more strategic in their giving," he said. "Before the match, they might have donated $500 a month to the United Way general fund, for example. Now with the match, that $500 becomes $1,000 and the donor may decide to designate it to a favorite nonprofit in another state."
Ethridge explained that the local United Way honors all designated donations. "Our challenge as a board is to help donors understand the importance of our local agencies to this community," he said.
When a donor designates an organization outside the general fund and not to one of the 19 local United Way member agencies, staff takes time and resources to vet the designated agency and to send that money out of the area. The process both depletes local staff resources and reduces local agency funding.
Local member agencies now receive educational opportunities. "Each year after our campaign, we have our member agencies come in and present proposals for the coming year," Ethridge said. "Our board is comprised of individuals with a variety of talent and expertise who have developed workshops and training for our agencies, which have varying degrees of business sophistication."
Ethridge explained that a person with a big heart often sees a need and wants to help but may not have a financial, legal or business management background. The workshops help these individuals grow their organizations, he said.
Ethridge was born in Riverside, Calif. His father served in the United States Air Force. Growing up, he lived in overseas locations such as Iceland and Okinawa.
Ethridge attended high school in central Illinois where he met his future wife Lore. She went to Purdue and he attended Berkley. He earned two undergraduate degrees, one in nuclear engineering and the other in mechanical engineering.
The couple married following graduation and moved to Hanford where he worked as an engineer for the Westinghouse Hanford Company.
Ethridge continued his studies at night, earning a Master's Degree in Nuclear Engineering. He also received a PhD in ceramic engineering, saying his interest in ceramic engineering stemmed from the fact that nuclear fuels are ceramic.
Ethridge transferred to Battelle Memorial Institute at Pacific Northwest Laboratory where he worked for some 10 years. In 1999, Ethridge transferred to Bechtel at Idaho National Laboratory where he worked until that contract ended in 2005.
Bechtel joined the team bidding on the LANL management contract at that time and Ethridge moved to Los Alamos to assist in that process.
"LANS won the bid and we began the transition in January 2006," he said, adding that he loves living in Los Alamos. "We like the climate and I can step out of my office and be on a trail in the woods," he said. "Our daughter Sarah was embraced by the schools and the coaches at Los Alamos High School where she played basketball and soccer."
Sarah graduated in May. She earned a soccer scholarship and just completed her first semester at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, where for the first time in its history, the soccer program won the conference.
"They were invited to the NCAA with the top 64 teams in the country and Sarah was very proud to be a part of it," Ethridge said.
He and his wife Lore have been married 29 years. She is the office manager for Rebound Physical Therapy in Quemazon.