Honoring Richard Porth, 2020 Barbara Geller Lifetime Achievement Award Winner
September 3, 2020
We are honored to award the Barbara Geller Lifetime Achievement Award to Richard J. Porth, President and CEO at the United Way of Connecticut. This award recognizes an individual who has worked tirelessly throughout their lifetime or career to help people experiencing homelessness to find housing and support, reconnect with family and friends, and reach their full potential.
The Reaching Home Awards will be held on September 10, 2020 from 3:30pm to 5:00pm. The Awards are free to attend. Click here to register, and for more further information on the Awards.
What does it take to produce a lifetime of achievement? For Rick Porth, the answer is clear: It takes a village. Porth has worn many hats over his long career; he has worked for such impactful organizations as the Capitol Region Council of Governments, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, and most recently as the President/CEO of the United Way of Connecticut (UWC).
An impressive resume, to be sure. When talking to Rick Porth about his career, however, what stands out is that, instead of focusing on himself, he focuses on the people who have been his mentors, co-workers, and fellow travelers in the work of public service.
When Porth speaks, the word service comes up very often. Inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s call to “ask what you can do for your country,” Porth embarked upon a career in public service, beginning with a job in administration for the City of Trenton, NJ. In this position, Porth says, “issues of housing and homelessness were never far from the focus of our work.”
His involvement with helping people experiencing homelessness only deepened over time, thanks to an unlikely source: The nuns at the Catholic Youth Organization in South Trenton.
“I started going to the CYO in South Trenton to play basketball,” Porth says. “The nuns were helping to start a youth shelter, which they called Anchor House. It’s still operating today. I actually moved in [to the shelter], even though I was working in City Hall. I lived in Anchor House for the first year and helped staff the place on overnight shifts. It shaped the way I think about a lot of these issues related to people’s homes, and why some people don’t have homes.”
Living at Anchor House showed Porth that, often, the public doesn’t get a full view of the issue of homelessness. So many of the young people living in Anchor House came from families struggling with poverty and all the challenges that go along with that.
At the United Way of Connecticut, Porth has been a part of many of the significant changes Connecticut has made to how it handles homelessness. Among the most important changes was the participation of Connecticut 2-1-1, the United Way-operated health and human services hotline, in the state’s Coordinated Access Network (CAN) for housing and homelessness. Over the past year, Connecticut 2-1-1 fielded over 90,000 calls for housing and shelter assistance.
“What we tried to do together,” says Porth, “in line with what HUD asked for, was to provide a more holistic response to people who were at risk of homelessness, and to look for different ways to coordinate the services that could be provided, and to divert people from homelessness.”
Though Porth oversaw the implementation of 2-1-1 as the President/CEO of UWC, he is quick to note that the program’s success is due to the hard work of many individuals.
“There are so many other good people who have worked hard at 2-1-1 to make sure we do the best we can to prevent homelessness,” he says. “People like Tanya Barrett, Wendy Caruso, Laura Robidoux and lots of other people who worked hard to serve people and to help prevent homelessness. This recognition has to do with a lot of work that they, and other people here, have been doing. It’s really been something to be a part of this effort on the part of so many good people doing work across the state of Connecticut.”
After twelve years with the United Way of Connecticut, Porth is retiring this month. After his decades of work for the public benefit, nobody would fault him for taking a break. But it’s not in his nature. After all, the work of service is never done.