By Lindsey Burks, Marketing Intern
Rick’s passion for early childhood development and learning stems from his own childhood. Until the age of about 8, Rick had a loving and supportive home life; however the remainder of his childhood, and through the teenage years, brought many challenges and hardships to his family. His father became severally mentally ill (and dangerous), and later homeless. His mother, with four children, had to divorce and move away for safety. Later she unfortunately married a man who became alcoholic and constantly abusive. But those first positive and developmental years of his life were the foundation that helped Rick weather the bad years. As he reflected on the trials he faced, Rick said “… the first wonderful years of my life defined me. And that’s what carried me through, no doubt about it. And the literal battles I went through, and the challenges I faced through those dark and dangerous and frightful times I now consider a gift because I’ve never been intimidated by people or issues or silly stuff like bad press or uninformed opinions since then. They are so minor compared to what our family went through; it helped to make me a little bit fearless, and very sensitive to the issues of others who are in deep distress.”
As CEO of Untied Way for the past 21years Rick has been able to turn his own childhood experience into a passion for early education and early childhood development. In 1993 when Rick became CEO, United Way was not as clearly focused on the impact donations were making. Today through Rick’s vision and the hard-work of staff and board, United Way is focused on making an impact in Early Childhood Development, Early Grade Excellence and Strengthening Families. As Rick puts it, “we still want to provide services for basic needs and people in crisis, but we want to focus more intentionally to start catching people before they start falling off the cliff. To be effective in that effort, you have to reach kids and their families very early.” In recognition of Rick’s early work to focus United Way more on outcomes and indicators of success, and to move United Way to a more prevention orientation, Rick was selected as one of the Pierce County’s first Business Leaders of the Year in 2001 by the Business Examiner in collaboration with the University Of Washington School of Business.
If you ask Rick about early education he lights up; his passion and drive is obvious and it’s no surprise he continues to receive awards and recognition for his work in the field. His latest award was from First 5 Fundamentals just last week; they honored Rick as the very first “Early Learning Champion Award” in Pierce County. Rick may be retiring but his passion for United Way and Early Learning will not end.
A significant component of Rick’s legacy is the powerful consortium he facilitated, now called First 5 FUNdamentals. Before recognizing Rick as the First Early Learning Champion, Tanya Andrews, Executive Director of the Children’s Museum of Tacoma and member of the First 5 board of directors, noted his dedication to First 5 and building a system designed to nurture and support our children. She went on to say, “Dr. Rick Allen, as he does with many pivotal issues in our community, said ‘why not’. And also typical of Rick, he didn’t just ask, he did.” Earlier, the Children’s Museum of Tacoma named Rick the inaugural winner of the Great Friend to Kids award in 2008.
First 5 FUNdamentals will thrive and act as the backbone of the early learning system in Pierce County because of Rick; collaborating and coordinating early learning services, enhancing the quality of those services and driving awareness around the importance of early learning. Although I did not witness the beginning, it is incredible to hear Rick’s stories from the first years of his life and how it led to all of this. His vision for an effective early learning system stemmed from his great start at life, and his monument in First 5 FUNdamentals will continue to ensure Rick’s dream of a great start for all of our community’s children.
Forty-four years ago, Rick married the love of his life Alvarita. She was the bus girl at the same restaurant where he worked as the dishwasher when they first met. After their first long conversation on a lunch break, he went home and told his mother he knew he was going to marry her. Rick and Alvarita are excited for his retirement, devoting as much time as possible to their three lovely grandchildren, and doing more international travel. Retirement will also do wonders for his collections of American art from the 30s-50s, modern graphic art, and wine, not to mention watching the Mariners in Arizona spring training.
Rick will be dearly missed by the entire staff at United Way of Pierce County, as well as by the community members with whom he has worked. We wish Rick and Alvarita many new adventures and happy memories throughout retirement!