Board Members Bring Knowledge and Experience to Remove Barriers to Poverty in Pierce County

To reflect a diverse population and critical social issues facing Pierce County, United Way has doubled down by building a board that not only looks like the community but has a deep passion for addressing poverty in Pierce County.

According to United Way of Pierce County President and CEO, Dona Ponepinto, “We were very intentional about ensuring we could better engage with the community and become a more resilient organization. Today’s board members have deep bench strengths in the business community in workforce development, transportation, education, finance and healthcare,” said Ponepinto. “They each bring knowledge about the very barriers that affect people struggling with poverty. They provide expert views with a lens on how could approach systems change and create opportunities for more families in our community

In the past year, as terms ended for long-time board members eight new board members joined United Way’s board of directors. Board Chair, Bill Berry notes, “While we see many bright spots in our work, the conditions for local families are worsening. Our work focuses on prevention, intervention and empowerment. It is generating high levels of interest, and demands broad participation as well as widespread support.”

Recent additions to United Way of Pierce County’s board of directions includes Louis Cooper, Sue Dreier, Steven Harlow, Andy Larson, Jennifer Nino, Sharon Oxendale and Tina Vasen.  

Louis Cooper, (Tacoma) Senior Director of Security and Labor Relations for the Port of Tacoma (South Harbor of the Northwest Seaport Alliance).  Additionally, he serves as the face for the Port’s Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative.  Prior to this role, he served as the Chief Operations Officer, overseeing Maintenance, Security, Terminal and Shipping Operations.  Mr. Cooper was the first African American to hold such a position in the Port’s nearly 100-year history.

“I am very passionate about social Justice have been all my life, (coming from a family of social justice fighters)” adds Mr. Cooper. “I am moved by the injustice in our community on many levels. More people and families of color experience institutional racism, sexism, homophobia, and higher levels of poverty and injustice. The work United Way is doing to ensure economic equality for everyone in Pierce County is surely a bold goal and I want to do all I can to help move the needle.”



Sue Dreier, CEO of Pierce Transit, oversees an agency of more than 970 employees with a $157.5 million budget. Pierce Transit provides community members with almost 10 million trips a year using 153 local buses, 364 Vanpool vans and almost 100 paratransit vehicles. Ms. Dreier is a member of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Board of Directors, as well as the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Board of Tacoma-Pierce County, Pierce County Accountable Communities of Health, Washington State Transit Association, South Sound Together and The Grand Cinema. She is a member of Tacoma-Pierce County Rotary 8.

“I am particularly moved by the work that United Way’s South Sound 2-1-1 does. It provides real time connections and navigation to help overcome specific barriers like food, transportation, housing, workforce navigation and behavioral health. The fact that they served nearly 90,000 people last year is staggering. It’s a real eye-opener to see the 2-1-1 team in action, making sure that each contact is treated with dignity, urgency and dedication to helping remove the barriers that are blocking them from becoming self-sufficient,” said Dreier.

Steven Harlow, (Tacoma) Senior Vice President & Private Client Advisor, Bank of America Private Bank, leads the Tacoma Private Bank team and is responsible for new business development with high net worth individuals. With more than 30 years’ experience managing banking relationships, including the past 20 years with Bank of America, he strives to build deep and long-term relationships. That is precisely what makes his skill set invaluable to United Way.

“I understand from a donor/investor perspective what is important. They want to know what has been achieved with their gifts and essentially what has been the return on investment. It’s been a pleasure attending events and joining in on Thank-a-Thons. It’s a pleasure to connect with people and to recognize their contributions. When I call someone to thank them on behalf of United Way it gives me a lens into what they care about and how we are delivering that promise,” noted Harlow.


Andy Larson, CPA (Gig Harbor) Regional Controller at Sound Physicians and a member of the AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants) as well as member of the ACHE (American College of Healthcare Executives). With more than 20 years of experience in accounting and finance roles across numerous industries, Larson’s head for accounting adds to our knowledge base in making sound financial decisions, but Larson also has a big heart for local issues.

Larson notes, “After living in Washington for nearly five years and focusing on work it is time to give back. I’ve seen the homeless in Tacoma and after seeing a person sleeping on the sidewalk daily near our office without a jacket or blanket I feel a personal conviction to help those in need.  There are also a lot of families who struggle to make ends meet and need help to make it through.  I believe the foundation of a strong community starts with strong families.”


Jennifer Nino, (Puyallup) Senior Vice President/Chief Financial Officer for Northwest Bank.  Northwest Bank is headquartered in Idaho and has offices in Boise, Idaho, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon. Ms. Nino leads the Finance Division of the Bank and has a wealth of banking experience as well as board leadership experience with the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, where she served on their Finance Committee. 

“Helping to care for United Way means ensuring prudent use of all assets, including facility, people and good will; and provide oversight for all activities that advance their effectiveness and sustainability,” said Nino. “My approach is fairly measured so I can bring a level of calm in the midst of a slow quarter or a longer period of time when fundraising is challenging. Looking at the long view aligned the bold goal of ensuring 15,000 households are lifted out of poverty by 2028, isn’t for the faint of heart. We’re in this work until we reach our goal and that is truly what drives the staff and board.”


Sharon Oxendale, (Gig Harbor) President/COO of MultiCare’s Tacoma General and Allenmore Hospitals, brings more than 20 years of hospital and health system leadership experience. Ms. Oxendale has served in executive roles in both not-for-profit and for-profit hospitals in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas and Illinois. She has also served as a national health care consultant for GE Medical Systems. Ms. Oxendale is a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives and has served on numerous hospital and other not-for-profit community boards.  She has also been an active participant in United Way and Chamber of Commerce Leadership Development Programs.

“MultiCare has been a long time partner in philanthropy and volunteerism in the Tacoma community and while I am still relatively new to the community, I am impressed by the vision and shared values of United Way to bring Pierce County together as a convener and a leader for social change,” said Oxendale.


Tina Vasen, (Edgewood) Vice President, Marketing and principal with TPSC Benefits, is a 35-year veteran of the third party administration space. Ms. Vasen has held a variety of executive roles for area non-profits and community outreach organizations. She has overseen the TPSC United Way campaign for many years, significantly increasing annual fundraising totals with the expansion of activities and resources. Her volunteer roles include the Tacoma-Pierce County Humane Society, the March of Dimes Pierce County Walk America and on the Executive Leadership Team for South Sound American Heart Association Go Red event and the Rotary Club #8.

“For me, philanthropy is all about making a positive difference in the world by devoting your resources, where the positive social returns vastly exceed the amount of time and money invested. I’m excited to help advance United Way’s mission to lift more people out of poverty. It’s smart from an economic, social and human level, but really, it’s the right thing to do. Everyone should have the opportunity to thrive,” noted Ms. Vasen.


United Way’s Board of Directors:


Bill Berry, Tacoma Public Utilities (Chair)
Nicole Sherman, Columbia Bank (Vice Chair)
Sebrena Chambers, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department (Secretary)
Jennifer Nino, Northwest Bank (Treasurer)

Board Members

Louis Cooper, Jr., Port of Tacoma
Sue Dreier, Pierce Transit
Mabel Edmonds, Clover Park Technical College
Steve Harlow, Bank of America Private Bank
Tanisha Jumper, City of Tacoma
Andy Larson, Sound Physicians
Nathe Lawver, Laborers Local 252
Matt Levi, CHI Franciscan Health
Linda Nguyen, WorkForce Central
Sharon Oxendale, Multicare Health System
Linda Proett, Regence
Patty Rose, Pierce County Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO
Tina Vasen, TPSC Benefits
Jim Walton, Community Advocate

About United Way of Pierce County: Our goal is to lift 15,000 local households out of poverty and into financial stability by 2028, one family at a time. We do this with a three-pronged approach that incorporates prevention, intervention and empowerment. United Way creates a solid foundation for Basic Needs like food, clothing and shelter so people can move out of crisis; breaks down barriers via South Sound 211 to connect families to critical resources and navigation services including behavioral health, housing, transportation and employment; and Builds Strong Families by helping people face financial challenges with free, one-on-one financial and career coaching and resources that help families thrive and break the cycle of poverty. By mobilizing local businesses, community organizations, governmental agencies and individuals who are committed to making a long-term measurable difference in our community, we are tackling poverty in Pierce County. To learn more visit

Media Contact

United Way of Pierce County
Katherine Ransom, Vice President Marketing & Communications Tel. 253.284.2549