Rachel C. Holt

Rachel Canuso Holt, the 13th president and CEO of the United Way of Central Oklahoma (UWCO), has dedicated her career to helping those in need. A graduate of George Washington University and the University of Oklahoma College of Law, Holt has worked as an advocate for victims of domestic violence, an Oklahoma County assistant district attorney and most recently as the Executive Director of Juvenile Affairs for the State of Oklahoma. We caught up with Holt and got her thoughts on … 

Photo courtesy UWCO

… how her previous role prepared her to run the United Way. 

Leading a statewide agency prepared me for working in sudden, unexpected situations and avoiding potential pitfalls. When collaborating with employees, children and partners across the state, I learned to be ready for just about anything.  My goal is to empower our team to survive and thrive through adversity.

… her passion for helping those in vulnerable positions. 

Community service became a part of my life in high school. I have witnessed both the need and reward from helping others. My first job after college was an advocate for domestic violence survivors applying for protective orders in the Washington D.C. Superior Court. During and after law school, I worked at the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office in the juvenile court system so I could continue to assist crime survivors. I truly enjoyed the collaborative work of juvenile justice.

After becoming a mother, this deepened my passion to work for the well-being of children. I have witnessed how dramatically the outcomes can differ for a child based on the circumstances to which they were born. This fuels me to work so that every child feels loved, supported and hopeful whether through the juvenile justice system, an interaction with a child at one of our United Way partner agencies, or supporting community services to strengthen families. We all have a duty to care for children.  Every child could and should be your child.

… replacing former CEO Debby Hampton. 

Debby Hampton’s dedication to Oklahoma nonprofits spans decades. She is a legend in nonprofit leadership and community-building. She is a force. She has left huge shoes for me to fill, but she was a strong support during the transition and continues to be a resource and a friend.  Just knowing that she is there for me has been a huge asset.

… positive surprises. 

My word of the year for 2024 is “inspired.” Every day I am inspired by our staff at Team United, our board members and their dedication of time and treasure to United Way, and our partner agencies and the work they do every day to truly change lives.  It is an honor to be in this orbit of incredible people doing vital work.

… short- and long-term goals.

UWCO celebrated its centennial year in 2023. My goal is to continue the UWCO legacy of connecting people and resources to improve the well-being of those in our community.  We want to engage new donors and volunteers and build our endowment fund. When people want to help, I want them to think of United Way and how sharing your time and resources with United Way makes a positive impact in our community.  We want to engage the next generation of philanthropists so we may continue being a community builder and convener. There are so many issues to tackle and we need United Way engaged in key community conversations.

… a key moment that confirmed she’s in the right profession.

Ten years ago, I returned from a pause I took in my career to raise my children. I returned to the District Attorney’s office part time and then transitioned fulltime to the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA).  Consequently, the executive director left and ultimately, I was tapped to lead the agency through a global pandemic – certainly a milestone for me! I am proud that we made OJA a top juvenile justice agency in the nation.

… advice for those looking to get into philanthropy.

Find your passion.  Find a nonprofit that is addressing a need close to your heart and support them financially, as a volunteer and/or as a social media follower and booster. My plug for you supporting United Way is that we vet and support 68 partner agencies in resourcing 140 proven programs so supporters know that their contributions make a deep, positive impact on our community. 

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