Afira DeVries, president and CEO of United Way of Roanoke Valley, is stepping down next month to take a job at an international nonprofit.

“I feel like my work here has really been the most significant of my career,” she said Tuesday. “We rolled up our sleeves and really got to address the things that are at the root of social inequity.”

DeVries, 44, became head of the local United Way in 2015. She accepted the job the day before Norfolk Southern Corp. announced it would uproot 500 jobs from the area.

Such upheaval in the corporate landscape prompted a transition in how the United Way found its funding, which traditionally had been from private-sector donors.

DeVries said one of her greatest accomplishments was working with other social service organizations to attract and boost grant funding to the region. She said United Way reduced reliance on corporate donors from 90% to 70% of revenue and increased grant revenue from $300,000 to about $2 million.

In August, DeVries will become U.S. director for London-based Spring Impact, which helps socially conscious programs grow.

She leaves United Way with 22 years of service, according to the organization.

“She was an innovative leader,” said Kerry Edmonds, chair of the nonprofit’s board of directors.

DeVries built collaboration with other agencies, Edmonds said, and cited a 2016 program to reduce homelessness among children.

“She cared about the community and trying to have the greatest impact as possible,” Edmonds said. “She’s built a strong foundation for us to continue to see that positive impact in the Roanoke Valley.”

After a few months on the job in Roanoke, DeVries found herself the center of controversy when a Roanoke County supervisor sought to end the county’s relationship with United Way.

The dustup revolved around United Way’s donations to Planned Parenthood.

“It was one heck of an initiation into the community,” DeVries said. “I said it then and I’ll say it now, at the end of the day, outrage that is meritless is no match for outcomes that are measurable.”

Her last day is July 19.

DeVries said her family will stay in Roanoke but anticipates spending a lot of time traveling.

In the next few weeks, the United Way board will explore its interim and future leadership, Edmonds said.

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Henri Gendreau covers crime in Roanoke and the surrounding area.

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