In announcing the new CEO and president of United Way of Westchester and Putnam, its board of directors chair June Blanc called the South Salem resident “a transformational leader” who “shares the values and vision” of the nonprofit.

As to the former, Thomas Gabriel, 50, began honing his leadership skills right out of Iona College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations and advertising and a master’s degree in business administration. His resume documents his rise to success as a fundraising and communications professional and illustrates the kind of commitment to those in need the United Way was seeking in its extensive, nationwide search for a successor to Alana Sweeny when she ends a five-year tenure. 

As to the latter, Gabriel has lived its “values and vision”—and it has made him what and who he is.

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In an interview, Gabriel, a native of New York City and a 15-year resident of Lewisboro, where he lives with his wife, Janine Prete, describes a childhood mired in poverty. His mother was disabled and his father died when he was in his teens. “And I didn’t grow up in a great neighborhood,” he added.

“If it were not for the help and assistance and support of nonprofit organizations and scholarship funds in educational programs throughout my life…I would not be here today,” Gabriel said. “So, I am sort of paying it forward for all I received as I was growing up by trying to help as many people as possible out of whatever circumstances that they find themselves in.”

And there are a lot of people in need, he acknowledges, “through no fault of their own.”

“Those, of course, are people that I have a fondness for,” he said, “and specifically, the United Way is just an amazing organization that helps local residents in Westchester and Putnam to become self-sufficient.”

Among other things, Gabriel said the organization works on the root causes of poverty by helping children to read proficiently by the end of third grade and focusing on financial stability through job-training programs. 

“And, of course, they are the first, sort of, responder, if you will, when people are in crisis because of their 2-1-1 helpline, which is where people call to find help,” he said. “And so, in many ways, the UW plays an important, pivotal role in helping people in need get out of the circumstances they’re in.”

Gabriel said his studies in college prepared him well for the career path he’s taken.

“I was always focused on working in the nonprofit world,” he said. “The track I took was fundraising, public relations and communications; assisting nonprofit organizations connect to the community. That’s what I’ve done at every organization and it’s those skills I’m hoping to bring to the United Way to help increase its impact.”

That track has led him to United Cerebral Palsy of Westchester, the VNA & Hospice Care Foundation of Hudson Valley, the United Way of Greenwich and the Westchester Land Trust. His last position was with Legal Services of Hudson Valley, which he was serving as chief development officer at the time of his appointment by the UWWP.  He was expected to assume his new mantle on Oct. 7.

In addition, Gabriel has served on UWWP’s Not-for-Profit Leadership Summit Committee. A board member for the Association of Development Officers, he was named its 2019 Outstanding Fundraising Professional. He also is the recipient of the 2019 C-Suite Award from Westfair Communications.

Of his new position with an organization that is more than twice the size of United Way of Greenwich in terms of employees and funds raised, Gabriel said he would be responsible for “creating a culture for an organization and connecting the community at large to the mission and the work of the organization.

“That’s my goal,” he said. “Building relationships in the community.”