You can hear the compassion in her voice, and you somehow know that her caring is sincere.
It's a useful quality to have as the vice president of Community Services for United Way of Central Maryland.
Marlene McLaurin's primary role at United Way is to target resources to meet needs, that is, match up dollars and human resources with the greatest needs. She directs the distribution of funds, allocating $11 to $12 million per year to 54 United Way agencies for their programs and services.
The United Way provides funding to organization which provide direct services, like the YWCA and YMCA, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the House of Ruth, Parents Anonymous, the Association for Retarded Citizens, Meals on Wheels and programs for the elderly, handicapped and illiterate.
Ms. McLaurin, the mother of 2 sons, 19 and 20, was born in Milwaukee and reared in Boston. She graduated from Hampton University in Virginia and spent 20 years in Connecticut. While there she earned a master's degree at Southern Connecticut College. After working with the United Way in New Haven for seven years, she accepted an opportunity for advancement here in Baltimore, where she has been for nine years.
It is a move she says she has never regretted. She finds Baltimore rich in leadership in almost every segment of the community.
The job itself offers many challenges. Her duties include directing staff and programs, research and planning.
While the distribution of funds is the more high profile part of her job description, Ms. McLaurin realizes that it requires more than money alone to deal with the many social problems in the area. She has been successful in recruiting professionals from the corporate community to volunteer to lead workshops and seminars.
"The United Way recruits volunteer leadership from government, social services and the community. One of the best parts of my job is having the opportunity to sit down with top leaders, leading talent in the community to come together, look at these problems and come up with some strategies."
For Ms. McLaurin, the three most pressing problems today include children at risk, the quality of public education and violence. All are linked together. For example, under unemployment, lack of affordable housing, and substance abuse may put children at risk, and have as root causes a lack of education, and the cycle of abuse and neglect.
"Research in recent years serves to document the crisis among children in Baltimore and across the nation. Statistical indicators show a negative trend, and progress in improving the status of children is stalled. Children are our most valuable resource, and they must be saved if we are to have a future," she says.
Ms. McLaurin's passion for the issues of children are no doubt related to her role as mother, and how seriously she takes parenting.
"Parenting is something we have not been trained to do. You tend to parent the way you were parented," she says. "Negative cycles can be changed with training. I really feel the family unit, no matter how it is constructed, is critical. If we can invest early in education, treatment care, and support to young families, then I really believe that the numbers in those jails, and addicts will lessen. But we must invest on the front end."
Many who do well were parented well. Ms. McLaurin's mother was her role model. She set the example for her. She was a single parent who imparted values, principles and that unconditional love which makes all the difference.
"I was blessed with a mother who really loved her children. My personal spiritual journey speaks to the principle of love and caring about and for other people and how it comes back to you. Faith in just doing what is right."