Chris Brown to Receive United Way of Greater New Haven Community Champion Award

April 8, 2019

Chris Brown, director, New Haven Hiring Initiative, has undoubtedly made his mark on Yale University and the New Haven community over the past decade and his efforts have not gone unnoticed. On Tuesday, April 25, Chris will be honored with the 2019 United Way of Greater New Haven Community Champion Award, alongside Andrew Orefice, program coordinator, community relations at Yale New Haven Health. Chris and Andrew are being recognized for their exceptional volunteer work with United Way—in particular, for their roles in launching the inaugural New Haven Day of Caring, which took place in October of 2018. 
 
East coast native, Chris Brown spent many years working in Human Resources for well-known retail companies such as Gap, Saks 5th Avenue, and Williams Sonoma, before accepting an HR generalist position at Yale. It wasn’t until 2008, while working at West Elm, the modern home décor division of Williams-Sonoma, and making the daily commute from Connecticut to Brooklyn, that Chris’s resumé landed in the hands of Bruce Alexander, setting the wheels in motion for Chris to embark on his career journey at the University. 
 
After five years in Employee Relations, supporting groups such as the museums, galleries, and Yale College, in 2013 Chris was offered an opportunity to assist then-director of New Haven Community Hiring Initiatives, Diane Turner, with the newly launched New Haven Promise Internship program. Twenty-three interns were hired across the university that year, and the program continues to flourish today, with over 300 interns hired to date, 94 of which hired last year alone. 
 
Through it all, Chris’s dedication to volunteer work and community involvement remained strong. In the fall of 2013 he and colleague, Geraldine Sullivan, were asked to take on the United Way co-champion role for Human Resources and the two enthusiastically accepted the task, combining their efforts to stir up excitement and increase campaign participation amongst HR staff. One year later, Chris became a member of the Yale United Way core committee, and in 2017 he accepted the role of tri-chair. When asked what inspires his dedication and commitment to the United Way campaign, Chris doesn’t hesitate, “I grew up in an era when people looked out for one another and tried to help each other. I remember seeing the United Way commercials as a small kid and thinking, ‘that’s what it’s all about—everybody doing their part for those in need’”. He goes on to say, “In the Yale United Way campaign we want to show people that it’s not just about giving money. It’s about giving your time and seeing what the United Way does for the community. We can all do our part. It is more about doing something as opposed to just reaching in your wallet”. 
 
While Chris is honored to receive the 2019 Community Champion Award, to him, the real reward is not the accolade, but knowing that he’s made a difference and inspired others to do the same. He is grateful for the partnership opportunity with Andrew Orefice and Yale New Haven Hospital in working together to better the New Haven community while helping those in need. “It takes a village. Everyone needs to chip in to make an impact. It is so important for people to look out for one another and take the time to help.”
 
Chris’s proudest volunteer moment has been introducing the Day of Caring concept to the United Way of Greater New Haven. “We needed a way for the city to get together as a whole. This was bigger than just the university or the hospital. We brought many constituents to the table, and together we got it done.” The inaugural event was a success with over 250 participants from various New Haven businesses, both large and small. Chris fondly remembers the day he first saw the Day of Caring billboard on I-95—a tangible symbol of how far they’d come. While the details of the 2019 Day of Caring are not yet finalized, he looks forward to another successful event with some new, fun additions and even greater participation 

Q&A with Chris Brown:

Q:   What hobbies or interests do you have outside of your career and volunteer work?
A:   I am an early riser. I like to get up at 5:00 a.m. and go to the gym. I enjoy spending time with my wife and two sons and visiting with extended family.
 
Q:   How do you find work/life balance?
A:   I keep it really simple. I come to work and work hard, remain focused and present. With the United Way, when I am wearing that hat, I wear only that hat so I can be the most impactful in the time I have. When I am with my family, I stay present and involved. We eat dinner together, go to the movies, the simple things. 
 
Q:   What are three things that most people don’t know about you?
A:  1. My father was in the Air Force, so I was born in Tucson, Arizona. I lived there until I was one. On my thirtieth birthday, I went back to visit and even went to the house we lived in. 
      2. I know how to windsurf.
      3. My two sons will play college baseball on rival teams next year. My oldest will be a senior at Amherst, and my youngest will be in his first year at Williams.
 
Q:   What is on your bucket list?
A:   Sitting courtside at an NBA game.
 
Q:   What is the most important lesson you’ve learned over the past five years?
A:    It’s important to ask for what you want. If you don’t let people know what you’re thinking or what you want, it may never happen. When you verbalize it, you have a greater chance of making it happen. 
 
Q:   Finish this sentence, “I am happiest when…”
A:   “I can help someone.” We work in a fantastic organization in which we have an opportunity to model what the rest of the University does. We get to experience a really great culture here, and it’s important to help others to have the same wonderful experience.