J. Thomas Uhler

Volunteer of the Year Award

United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades, and Okeechobee

Uhler and Vertich Financial Planners, LLC

Raymond James

The Great Recession devastated the southwest-central area of Florida served by the United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades and Okeechobee counties. The collapse of the housing industry wiped out the economy of coastal Lee County, a popular destination for retirees, and the ripple effect impoverished the three inland agricultural counties.

In 2011, Tom Uhler, owner of Uhler and Vertich Financial Planners in Fort Myers, Fla., took on the challenge of chairing the United Way’s multimillion-dollar annual fundraising campaign.

“We were worried because a lot of businesses — former donors — no longer existed. There were thousands of foreclosures per month. But there was no way I was going to let us not reach our goal — not on my watch,” Mr. Uhler said. It was critically important to raise money to meet the increased needs of people in these communities.

Characterized by peers as having a “contagious positive attitude,” Mr. Uhler led and mobilized some 1,200 volunteers to find, cajole, convince, and sign up an equivalent number of new businesses and individuals to replace the lost donors. They not only succeeded, but exceeded their $8 million goal.

Now serving as the chairman of the board, he continues to spread the message. It’s not hard for him.

“I get more bang for the buck for my energy — knowing that every donation impacts more than 70 agencies,” he said.