Olson named CEO of Whiteside County United Way, will remain Lee County's leader for now, too

STERLING – The United Way of Whiteside County is about to be under new leadership, but with someone familiar to the area.

Keri Olson, head of the Lee County United Way, is the nonprofit's new CEO.

The move brings the Sterling native closer to home.

"I do really love United Way as an organization, and Whiteside County was particularly interesting to me because it's my home, I was born and raised in Whiteside County," Olson said.

"They're also a bit bigger than Lee County, so they're doing some programming that Lee County isn't doing yet, things like the Life Program with the Imagination Library and the Born Learning Academy. All of those programs and just exciting to get into."

She has no particular new plans to implement yet – she needs to spend time learning more about the organization to find a place where she can make her mark, Olson said.

Olson fills the role last held by Diana Verhulst, who stepped down Nov. 20 to become a pastor at Franklin Grove Church of the Brethren.

Olson became the executive director for the United Way of Lee County in February 2018, and before that was the branch operations director for the Sterling-Rock Falls Family YMCA.

She looks back on a number of things she was able to do in In Lee County, that she is proud of.

"We've really increased our summer lunch program," she said. "When I started out, it was grant-funded and it served less than 300 meals over the course of the summer. When this summer ended, we served 10,000 meals, so in just 3 years we went from 300 to 10,000, so we definitely worked hard to increase our reach with that program."

She has been active in the community in a number of ways, serving on the board of directors for the Sauk Valley Community College Leadership Program, the Rotary and serving as a Chamber Ambassador.

She is particularly fond of the United Way for how it brings together the services people need.

"We know that people who need services generally need services from more than just one organization," Olson said. "If they are in a homeless shelter, they're probably going to need services from more than just that homeless shelter to get back on their feet. So United Way is able to provide resources to a number of different organizations in the community so we can have a well-rounded approach to solving some of the issues that we see."

For the time being, Olson will oversee the agencies in both counties until her Lee County replacement is found.