Ten years ago, Kelly Gilliam, Pitt United Way Campaign manager in the Office of Philanthropic & Alumni Engagement (PAE), was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. At this year’s kick-off breakfast Gilliam, visibly choked up, recounted the help she found through United Way and American Cancer Society.
“I was able to call them and have someone give me an encouraging word, and talk to them about vitamins and things you don’t think of,” like wigs and financial resources, she said.
Doctors removed her tumor; ongoing treatment included radiation and chemotherapy. And by 2015, Gilliam was on the mend and only had follow-up visits every six months.
‘Something special about working here’
That October, Gilliam started work at Pitt in the Office of Human Resources (OHR). Her daughter was a student at the Pittsburgh campus at the time. “I just fell in love with the community. It’s like a family,” Gilliam said. “There’s just something special about working here in Oakland at Pitt.”
Gilliam had hardly been in her job in OHR six months when she received a call from her doctor: Her cancer had returned, and there were complications. Her doctor told her that because the cancer had returned to the same breast, treatment necessitated a mastectomy—a surgery that would require three weeks of inactive recovery.
How to donate
The Pitt United Way Campaign website has information about how you can donate to support the Pitt campaign.
Options to give include online through a recurring payroll deduction or a one-time gift; or by credit card, check or pledge form.
Donors can contribute to the United Way Impact Fund, through which the United Way targets funds to support the local agencies that serve populations facing the most critical current needs, or donors can instead choose from hundreds of local and regional organizations to direct their contributions toward.
“I remember coming back to work [after the news], and I was overwhelmed by the love and support from my coworkers,” said Gilliam. “They were like, ‘Anything you need—what can we do to help you?’”
Knowing that she would need support and recovery time, colleagues gave her cards and collected money. “That’s why I said we’re so generous,” Gilliam said.
Additionally, through the American Cancer Society, she was able to find help covering aspects of her treatment that she would have otherwise had to pay out of pocket. “They were just wonderful people, and they told me about other organizations and the United Way, and connected me with so many resources that really helped me,” she said.
Making more connections
Five days after the surgery, Gilliam was able to leave the hospital. After three weeks of full-time recovery at home, Gilliam, her doctors and supervisors at Pitt arranged a schedule that allowed her to transition back to work on a part-time basis until she was able to return full time. Today, she’s healthy. In fact, Gilliam said she was told by her doctors that when she completes Tamoxifen treatment this January, “I can officially say that my previous history with breast cancer has been cured!”
Earlier this year, she accepted her current role with the University’s United Way Campaign and in PAE. It’s the first time the University has dedicated a full-time employee to oversee the campaign, now in at least its 15th year at Pitt, and Gilliam calls her new position “a dream come true.”
Indeed, Gilliam’s background and experiences are a great match for this role. As a pastor at her local church, Gilliam volunteers with several local nonprofits and helps people find the support they need. Gilliam recalled her HR colleagues’ response when she told them about the new role: “They were sad to see me leave, but when I told them what I was doing, they said ‘That is so you.’ It was perfect.”
Kate McGlynn, associate director of administration and special projects in PAE, who led Pitt’s United Way steering committee for eight years and works closely with Gilliam, called the creation of the new position exciting. “Every year has gotten bigger with more ideas and activity, and now there’s an effort to make it more connected,” said McGlynn.
This effort includes enhancing communication, including updates to campaign managers, and information shared more broadly with members of the University community. Employees are encouraged to like the Pitt United Way Campaign Facebook page and follow the Twitter account for campaign-related content that Gilliam posts regularly.
With Gilliam on the front lines full-time for the campaign, McGlynn said, “I think we're going to learn that there's already some really cool other connections and relationships between the United Way and pockets of the University that have never run through our office before, but they have been happening.”
Gilliam is eager to learn what units across campus are doing to engage with the campaign—and to help. She sees her role as supportive and connective, fostering collaboration between University units and the United Way to build engagement. “If you have something going on in your department, let me know if I can help and I'll try to come to support you. If you're stuck or you're trying to think of ideas, just call me and we can talk about that,” she said.