Tanya Baronti recently took over as director of United for Children at United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania. Baronti, 48, has dedicated her professional life to improving the lives of kids. In her new role, she will oversee programs such as FitUnited, Be a Middle School Mentor, and Hundred Thousand Books.
Most recently, she had worked as digital media and learning project manager at Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at St. Vincent College.
A divorced single mom for the last seven years, Baronti lives in Greenfield with her three kids, a 16-year-old daughter and 12-year-old twins – a boy and a girl.
How did you come to a life of serving children?
I started at a county position doing child protective work, which was a great educational experience, but a very difficult job emotionally. I realized then that was not going to be a place that I wanted to stay, but I knew from working that position that I wanted to be, in some way, set up to help people, particularly children.
What came next?
I went from there to Children’s Hospital and worked for a clinic. For a few years, I went into a graduate program. I knew that I wanted to be a counselor with children. I did mobile therapy and behavioral specialist work with children for a few years.
That landed me in this child-centered space. I went into an agency that works on children’s literacy and talked to families about the importance of reading to their children.
This new gig sounds right up your alley.
The appeal of this position is a lot of my work over time became very segmented, very specific. My job at the Rogers Center was working with digital media and technology, which was fantastic and very challenging and interesting, but it was a very segmented sector of the work. United Way is giving me the opportunity to broaden the impact that I have across age groups, across generations.
What makes you suited to this new job?
My own struggles and raising my own children gives me a unique perspective on the job. And it also gives me tremendous passion and drive to make sure that children in our region, and families in our region, are getting what they need to be successful. The things I am able to get for my own children and for my own family makes me then start to think about all the other families in our area and how can I get the same access for them.
What are some of the difficulties parents deal with?
Just daily stuff can be a struggle: Making sure all my kids are off to school, making sure they’re getting on the bus, that they are where they need to be on a daily basis.
When you throw in what’s the best school for my child to attend, what interests does my child have, and how do I get them opportunities to be involved in things that they’re really passionate about? That all comes at a cost – a financial cost and a time cost. I’m doing OK, but I think about other families and how do they get what they need?
How do you manage a career and raise three kids?
You just do it. You just do it and then you think, “Wow, how did I do all that today?”
Do you have specific plans for United for Children?
One of the things we’re talking about is how do we pull together the different impact areas (children and youth, families, the disabled, seniors). They’re separated right now. I’m really interested in multigenerational programming. How do we bring the seniors together with children, with families? How do we bring people with disabilities into this?
What’s an example of how to do that?
We already do it to a certain level. We have a mentoring program where you’re bringing in adults with middle school-aged kids. I’d like to see it a little more intentional. I keep saying, “I don’t just exist as me. I exist as part of a family, as part of a community,” and I want to bring those communities together.
Any other goals?
I’m just getting to understand all these initiatives. The thing that I’m thrilled about is the reach. The thousands upon thousands of children we can reach in the community on any given day is really amazing.
How will you know when you’ve been successful?
I think about that every day: “What made me successful today?” I think it depends on the day. Some days it’s harder to be successful than others. I think being successful is offering meaningful experiences for the people in our community that meet their needs. I think we still have a long way to go. We’re starting to scratch the surface.
With your limited free time, what do you do for you?
I’ve made it a sincere effort to spend more time with my friends and have fun, just as me. That may just be going out to dinner, going to see a movie. I really enjoy theater, so sometimes I see that with my children, and sometimes I go out with my friends.