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United Way Names New President

Fund-raising: Former Ralston Purina executive will try to bring the agency out of financial hardship, after staff and salary reductions.


CAMARILLO — United Way of Ventura County has hired a new president with extensive fund-raising experience to guide the financially troubled organization through challenging times.

Sheryl Solomon of Thousand Oaks is joining the organization only five months after officials announced a deferral of grants to 59 member agencies, ranging from counseling services to food pantries. The agency is trying to avoid a projected $300,000 deficit.

Officials also cut their staff in December from 18 to 12 and since Jan. 1 cut benefits for remaining staff members about 8% annually--a move that will cost employees $100 more per month for medical and dental benefits.

But the organization's grim financial status apparently did not deter any of the 58 applicants for the organization's top position.

"It's an issue that is certainly a public issue," said Spencer Garrett, a United Way board member who is volunteering his time as acting chief financial officer.

"I don't know of any of the candidates that shied away because of that," Garrett said. "We certainly disclosed the information with all the candidates and said we were looking for someone that would be able to guide us through this period."

Solomon is also joining the organization at a time when officials planned to lower the salary for the president's position.

Although the position had been advertised with a salary of up to $80,000, Solomon signed a contract this week with a beginning salary of $67,000.

She will work part time at United Way until the contract ends in her current position as coordinator for Ventura County's welfare-to-work program at Ventura College.

Solomon is also coming on board at a time of high turnover at the agency--she is the organization's fourth president since 1993.

Solomon could not be reached for comment, but in a prepared statement said: "Although there are many challenges ahead, I am confident that United Way can become the premier organization in Ventura County through which donors can improve the quality of life for the greatest number of people in the areas of health and human services."

Before moving to California in 1996, Solomon was director of community and education programs at the Ralston Purina Co. Her responsibilities included managing charitable contributions and creating educational, employment and community programs for economically disadvantaged St. Louis residents.

She created Ralston's first Employee Volunteer Program, and served on the United Way board of directors in St. Louis and United Way of America's National Corporate Leadership Advisory Council for nine years.

Prior to joining Ralston Purina in 1986, Solomon worked in public affairs and taught English and journalism at college and secondary schools.

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