New executive director of United Way of Lewis County looks to foster deeper community connections


Months into her new role, United Way of Lewis County Executive Director Annie Oien constantly looks for opportunities to facilitate and develop new partnerships while also developing deeper connections between existing organizations.

“A lot of what United Way does is it’s about bringing people together and connecting people with resources,” Oien said. “So much of that connection begins with being present.”

A long-time resident of Lewis County, Oien graduated from W.F. West High School before attending Western Washington University. Oien taught health and physical education at Centralia College for 18 years, a job she said led to a deeper appreciation of Lewis County’s diversity.

She left the job for a sales position, returning two years later as an adjunct professor at the college, and later accepting a position with the Centralia College Foundation.

Oien praised the mentorship of longtime Executive Director Debbie Campbell, who she called the “heart and soul of United Way of Lewis County” for two decades.

“She has been gracious and available to offer wisdom, insight and support wherever she can,” Oein said. “With her legacy, the input of the dedicated and tirelessly supportive United Way board, and the awesome United Way office team, I’m truly thrilled to work collaboratively and grow the powerful community impact of United Way in Lewis County.”

As executive director, Oien said she sees the potential for growth into rural areas of the county, including delivering books for organizations to distribute.

Oien referenced the United Way’s ALICE initiative, which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed. About a quarter of Lewis County hits the benchmark, while 11% falls below, according to Oien.

“Everybody is potentially one circumstance away from becoming ALICE,” Oien said. “We can all be cruising along thinking that the path of our life and the decisions we have made, and how we have chosen those decisions, are going to lead us towards a place of comfort. And one thing about life, we can be sure that we will always have unexpected hits.”

Across the state, the number of people unable to afford basic household necessities grew by 76,000 households between 2020 and 2021, with more than a third of households struggling to afford the basics.

Oien said the United Way of Lewis County will look to grow initiatives and programs to support that population, efforts that have proven successful throughout the country.

“Sometimes, when you’re just overloaded with the stresses of life, you are almost immobilized,” Oien said. “And so just having a game plan of ‘here’s one place where they can go’ where you can actually acquire the resources that you need instead of going to so many different places, which can be such a pathway to success.”

One program, Oien said, is the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which provides children free, age-appropriate books in the mail every month from birth to age 5.

“It’s not just about the books in the hands of children. It’s about what happens when parents are reading to their kids, the relationships that are built in that setting,” Oien said. “So continuing to have children sign up for that, that’s one of those areas that I’m working with Arbor Health so that during checkups, they get their kids registered.”

In partnership with KELA/KMNT, the United Way of Lewis County and the Lewis County Rotary Foundation will host Dolly Day Lewis County on May 17, a telethon and benefit concert to support childhood education.

Country musician Kitty Mae will host a benefit concert at The Juice Box. General admission tickets to the event cost $25, while VIP tickets will cost $50.

As the fiscal agent, the United Way of Lewis County is tasked with distributing the funds for Scholars Haven, a newly formed partnership to house homeless students in the Centralia School District.

Lewis County recently provided $35,000 for a project to house homeless students in the Centralia School District, bringing the total to $62,000 in public and private partnerships, so far. The money will so far fund housing for eight students to live in the CHI apartments at Centralia College through August.

“I think that model really is enhanced when you’re presenting it from a place of people coming together to provide the resources,” Oien said. “Versus, one organization is coming forth and saying ‘here is the need.’”

Those interested in donating can send money to the United Way of Lewis County marked for Scholars Haven. To donate, visit or the United Way office at 450 NW Pacific Ave. in Chehalis.

The program is currently available to select students in Centralia, but Oien expressed optimism it could expand to other schools in the county.

“That is where our conversation and development and vision will grow,” Oein said.

Oien also expressed excitement over the United Learning Center, a project that’s fully funded after an influx of nearly $6 million from the state and federal governments.

“There’s phenomenal momentum where we’re very much moving forward on progress on that project in the next couple of months,” Oien said.