Mount Vernon Cynthia Hull, 62, advocate of the poor who successfully led United Community Ministries through recession and diminishing sources of funding, was diagnosed with cancer in early January. She is in Stage 4 of terminal lung cancer that has metasticized throughout her body. She was never a smoker.
“She is a remarkable person who devoted her life to community service. It’s a tragic situation. She will continue as our executive director until she passes away,” said Niki Wanner, director of UCM Development and Communications at the charity’s administrative offices at 7511 Fordson Road. Named executive director in April 2007, Hull oversaw a staff of 72 at five area sites which include two community centers, a job center, the Back Porch Thrift Store and an early development daycare center.
“Her greatest accomplishment was that she led the agency through the most difficult economic times in our recent history so that we are able to meet the incredible rise in demand for services at a time when our funding remained relatively flat,” said Wanner.
Providing emergency food, emergency funds for rent and utilities, housing assistance for the struggling and homeless, employment assistance, community development for low-income families, advocacy, afterschool youth services and daycare for the working poor, she shepherded UCM through the recession serving 13,000 people last year — a jump of 6,000 more than the 7,000 needing help in 2007.
“To do that with the same amount of resources that she had before is pretty amazing,” said Wanner. “We did cost-cutting measures and looked at innovative ways of saving money and making sure that we could meet the demand for services without compromising the integrity of the program.”
UCM’s Sarah Stone, who also works in development and communications, said Hull’s leadership was crucial in the recession. “Because of the economy, funding sources were drying up left and right,” she said. “Foundations were no longer taking applications, people were cutting back on their giving, and Cynthia plowed through making sure that people got fed as more and more people are coming to our door needing help with rent, needing help with utilities, needing help with food.
“She made sure that this organization — at a time when a lot of organizations across the nation similar to ours are buckling because there’s just not enough money — she made sure we remained a stable institution.”
Wanner attributed Hull’s success to devotion to her work and her remarkable spirit. “She believes that each person in their life can make a difference in the lives of someone else, and she is very much a believer that we all as individuals share a common humanity and that we have a responsibility — those of us in a better position — to help our neighbors who are not in such a good position. And that really is how she lived her life and continues to live her life.”
Stone described her as “a friendly, kind, giving person” who can be “stubborn and flexible at the same time,” adding, “I’m inspired by her. She has dedicated her life to helping others, and that’s tremendous.”
“She just exemplified the life of the principles we’re supposed to live in loving your neighbor,” said Wanner.
Hull is also known for her devotion to her staff. “She very much cared for the welfare of her employees. She very much respected the work that we did. She saw us — and we are — very much committed individuals,” said Wanner.
She also described Hull as “a very dedicated mother” to her son Duncan who lives in Maine with his wife Kristen and two-year-old daughter Pierce. “She was tremendously delighted to be a grandmother,” Wanner said.
UCM carries on, now with Elizabeth McNally as acting executive director.
Cynthia Hull is now living her last days in Maine with Duncan and his family.
To help Cynthia Hull and UCM carry on their work for the poor, residents can attend the Harmony Heritage Singers benefit concert this Saturday, at 3 p.m., at Mount Vernon Unitarian Church, 1909 Windmill Lane. A love offering will be taken.
Residents can also aid UCM by enjoying a meal at the Cosmopolitan Grill from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21. Ten percent of the sale of the meal will be donated to UCM. The restaurant is located at 7700 Richmond Highway. Be sure to say: “Here for UCM.”