A conversation with Shelley White, outgoing CEO of The United Way Peel

I remember the first time I met Shelley White. It was at the MARTY awards in 2016 and I was graciously invited by Ron Duquette. I was expecting to have a table somewhere in the back of the room among hundreds of high-profile guests. It turned out that I was a guest at Ron’s table, front and centre of the event, which was a bit intimidating, truth be told. As I had recently launched Modern Mississauga, I was getting my proverbial feet wet with attending community events and as a new entrepreneur, there was a bit of anxiousness. I showed up extra early and took my seat (I was the first one at the table) and excitedly (and slightly nervously) waited for the balance of my table-mates to arrive. 

To shorten what can easily be a very long story, Shelley White sat down beside me and was incredibly warm, welcoming and conversational with me. Maybe she noticed my rookie nerves or maybe she noticed that I was a new face in the crowd. The more and more I got to know Shelley over the past year, I realized that’s simply the person she is. She supports inclusion of others, is approachable and kind. 

I’ll never forget that night, when I was slightly hesitant to shake anyone’s hand due to sweaty palms from being a tad nervous, yet welcomed into the community with open arms to give Mississauga the media presence it deserves.

As she opens the page to her next exciting professional chapter as CEO of the Responsible Gambling Council of Canada, she’ll be missed tremendously by the community she’s been immersed in via the United Way of Peel over the past 13 years. Before she moves on, I had a chance to chat with my friend about her time at the United Way.

Why now?

"I’ve been with the United Way for 13 years and am extremely proud of the work we’ve done and the changes we’ve implemented. 13 years is a long time and I look at my career, the primary driver for me changing is that I want to lead a national and global organization that is improving people’s lives, building a stronger Canada and a stronger global community. I’m a stronger believer in the value of refreshing leadership. I think a new leader is going to come into this extraordinary organization and take it to the next level and have an even greater impact. I will still be a part of the United Way as a volunteer and as a major gift donor because I am a part of this community and want to remain involved but in a different way."

What brought you here 13 years ago?

"I knew what the organization could do and I noticed it was going through some challenges. The United Way was looking for a new leader who could help turn the organization around and that’s what one of my areas of expertise is. The United Way needed a strong, impactful, vibrant presence and the Board of Directors agreed that’s what was needed." 

What will you miss the most?

"I’ll miss my work family…the staff, board and volunteers. They’re the most incredible people you’d ever want to work with. They’re smart, caring committed, fun, loving, innovative and collaborative. I’m also going to miss working with the community that I live in. Hearing the great stories and seeing the transformation in people that occurs as a result of the work we’ve done…I’ll also miss that.
I get emotional every time I think about this...I think of Joshua, who was bullied for years because he has Tourette Syndrome. It became so bad that he had to be removed from school and be home-schooled for a year. The depression that came along with it unfortunately led to a few instances of suicide attempts. 
However, a wise, caring teacher connected him with Nexus Youth Services, which is United Way funded organization that’s a grassroots counseling service. They had three great programs which Joshua participated in. Talk therapy, strength training and an arts program. He’s now 26 and a peer counselor at Nexus, is competing in weightlifting competitions, has published a book of poetry, has delivered almost 40 speeches for the United Way. Seeing that confidence and transformation and how relieved his parents are and that he’s living a great life, is tremendous for me." 

What advice do you have for the next CEO of the United Way?

"I think the most important part of this job is building relationships…we have to scale up and take a leadership role. They also have to build relationships with residents and all sectors as well. It’s important to continue to build that culture of inclusion and continue to engage people." 

Is there anything you’d change during your past 13 years?

"I’m leaving after 13 years with a feeling that the work isn’t done…I wish I could have done more and done it faster. I know the needs are out there and I wish I could have done more because there are people that are unfortunately not getting the help they need." 

What attracted you to the Responsible Gambling Council of Canada?

"Although it’s a different sector, it’s still working with vulnerable individuals, similar to how the United Way does, which is something that is very important to me. Also, seeing an opportunity to scale up with this new organization so they can have a greater impact." 

Any closing words?

"This is a really special community because it’s so collaborative and it’s made a huge difference. We have great leadership in the community across all sectors. It’s really important to recognize that through Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon. It’s a really caring community and I’m so proud to live and work here. The new leader of the United Way will be fortunate to come into this culture and community…they will get so much support. There’s so much more that we can do, want to do and will do."