A heart of gold: Arica Harris’ United Way story

United Way’s supporters are the fuel that drives the success of this organization. Their commitment to positively impacting the community changes lives and gives people hope for a better tomorrow.

For 10 years, Arica Harris has been the epitome of what it means to be a leader in the United Way community. She consistently lends her time, talent and treasure to help us build a strong, equitable community where everyone can thrive.

Arica said her support for United Way stems from the broad impact we have on various individuals and organizations throughout the St. Louis region.

“Everything that United Way supports has either touched my life, my friends’ lives, or my family’s lives,” said Arica. “You look at a lot of these organizations that we have been involved with and you realize that these organizations are benefitting from United Way and that’s when I realized I wanted to be all the way in with my support.”

Arica’s origin

Arica grew up as an only child in Detroit and was raised by two hard working and loving parents. In her early childhood, she enjoyed sports and being a girl scout. In high school, she became serious about her future and career path. Mentorship from a beloved teacher convinced her to pursue accounting and business, so in college, she obtained a bachelor’s and master’s degree in those fields.

After working a couple of jobs in accounting and business in Detroit, her career and marriage brought her to St. Louis where she eventually began working for United Way corporate partner, Edward Jones. She enjoyed her career and family, but being a part of the St. Louis community also sparked her desire to want to become more charitable and philanthropic.

“The more I give, I feel like the more I receive, there’s a joy that comes with being able to help people,” said Arica. “The giving community in St. Louis is phenomenal. I started to get involved with some of the things my husband was involved in and one of those was United Way.”

Arica began attending some of United Way’s Charmaine Chapman Society events to meet new people and take advantage of networking opportunities. Seeing so many successful people come together to support United Way and the greater good of the community left a long-lasting impression on her and made her want to get more involved.

“There were so many people that were leaders in different professions that were getting involved and coming together to learn about United Way,” said Arica. “I began serving on various [Boards of Directors], and that’s how you become a leader – having input, influence, being supportive, and helping to engage the community with what’s going on.”

After learning more about United Way and getting more involved, her generosity and support began to blossom. She served on more boards, became a member of our Charmaine Chapman Society, Women’s Leadership Society, de Tocqueville Society, mentors young professionals in our United Young Leaders group and regularly participates in volunteer events.

Arica’s generosity and support knew no bounds. From the moment she arrived in St. Louis in 2013, she and her husband, Steven Harris, were there for us, and years later when she needed help, United Way was there for her too.

Support for our supporters

Arica was in church on a Sunday afternoon when she began to notice some discomfort in her chest, she tried to ignore it, but the pain persisted. She eventually left church and went to Urgent Care, they performed several tests on her, and after evaluating her condition, they determined that her condition was serious enough that she had to go to the hospital.

She was diagnosed with first-degree heart block which is a condition where there is a delay in the time it takes for electrical pulses to move through the atrioventricular node in the heart. She was told that she would have to monitor it, have a yearly checkup, and that at some point she would more than likely have to wear a pacemaker.

Her heart health issues began early on in her life. She began having heart murmurs when she was a young child, she fainted once when she was in college, and a couple years prior to the incident in church, she fainted again and was rushed to the hospital, but was told she was just dehydrated.

Arica realized she needed a partner in her journey to maintain her heart health. While at the hospital, a nurse gave her some reading material about United Way nonprofit partner agency, American Heart Association.

The American Heart Association conducts medical research into cardiovascular disease and prevention and educates people on how to lead healthier lives.

“I reached out to them and looked on their website and found out more information about how to support yourself, eat right, do cardiovascular workouts and more,” said Arica. “I didn’t know heart disease was so preventable, they tell you to listen to your bodies, go get checked out and do the work so you don’t end up with a heart attack or clogged arteries.”

Finding out that the American Heart Association was funded by United Way made her support for us even stronger. She got to experience for herself how vital United Way’s safety net of nonprofit partners is to the stability of the St. Louis region.

“It is super important for community-based organizations that are partners of United Way to receive funding because the more funding they get, the more resources and support they can provide for the community,” said Arica. “I know we are all passionate about particular organizations we want to give to, I’m very passionate about the American Heart Association. But I like to take the bulk of my funds to United Way because United Way is the organization that has done all the work to understand specifically what all of our community’s needs are, and they’re the ones that shift these resources and funding to where they need to be.”

Reward of a lifetime

2022 was one of the most special years in United Way’s history. That year marked our organization’s 100-year anniversary.

Arica planned on supporting United Way just as she had for the past nine years – volunteering, donating and supporting us in any way that she could. But a few months before the start of our annual community campaign, she learned that she would have a much more significant role – she was selected to serve as our campaign vice chair.

“That was probably the biggest thing that’s ever happened to me in my life,” said Arica. “It was such an honor to be in that role and support the community at that level and at that capacity.”

Arica’s announcement as campaign vice chair was featured in local media publications like the St. Louis American, Illinois Business Journal and the cover of the Ladue News Magazine alongside United Way President and CEO, Michelle Tucker and campaign co-chairs, Penny Pennington and Rusty Keeley.

As vice chair, she was tasked with assisting our community outreach efforts. Helping to garner attention towards our campaign and hopefully secure donations. Thanks in part to her efforts, the community campaign raised over $67 million. Arica said seeing the community come together to support United Way’s mission to help people live their best possible lives was a rewarding experience. 

“It was very fun, the energy around United Way with people participating and giving was so high,” said Arica. “Coming off years of COVID where we couldn’t be together like we have in years past, 2022 afforded us the opportunity to be together more and thus, people wanted to do more and give more.”

As United Way moves into its second century of impact, Arica looks forward to sticking by our side and doing all she can to help our neighbors in need. United Way has helped millions of people, and as we look to the future, there is still more we can accomplish together.

“The work is not done yet, there’s still so many needs in our community, there’s so much more that we can do,” said Arica. “As we continue to grow in our lives and our professions, we have an obligation to make sure our community continues to thrive for our children and our children’s children. So, we’re not done, the story is still being written.”

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Rodney Humphries
Rodney Humphries

Rodney Humphries is the Communications Specialist for United Way of Greater St. Louis and a proud graduate of Webster University where he developed his passion for writing. In college, he combined his love for writing and sports, serving as the primary sports writer for his school newspaper while also developing his own sports blog. After graduating, he continued his love for writing as he served as a freelance writer for various publications. Rodney continues to be a fan of Webster athletics, you will often see him sitting courtside at a lot of their basketball games.