United Way president wins ‘Sand in My Shoes’ award

Harve A. Mogul, President and CEO of United Way of Miami-Dade, reads to students at the United Way Center for Excellence in Early Education Center on Tuesday, February 3, 2015. At left is Jazmin, 4.
Harve A. Mogul, President and CEO of United Way of Miami-Dade, reads to students at the United Way Center for Excellence in Early Education Center on Tuesday, February 3, 2015. At left is Jazmin, 4. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

The sky is green.

That’s what Harve A. Mogul, now the president of the United Way of Miami-Dade, told Filipino schoolchildren 50 years ago as a teacher in the Peace Corps. The sky is green, his pupils dutifully repeated.

When the students — who had learned through rote memorization all their lives — regurgitated that answer on a test, Mogul let them have it. Just look outside, he said. The sky is blue!

“They weren’t really being taught to think,” he said in a recent interview at his Miami office. “I told them the teacher’s not always right. You have to use your own powers of observation.”

For Mogul, who will be honored with the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s Sand in My Shoes award Wednesday evening, education has been the cornerstone of his life’s work.

He has led Miami’s United Way chapter since 1991, winning particular acclaim for the United Way Center for Excellence in Early Education. The center, founded in 2007 after a $20 million fundraising campaign, is a teaching hub for improving the development of young children and putting the latest educational research into practice.

“We need to get kids through school more successfully so they can be better citizens,” said Mogul, 72, a former public school teacher in his hometown of Baltimore. “And we’ve squandered our chance if we wait until after their brains are hardwired.”

It’s not only his passion for education that led the chamber to grant him one of the community’s highest honors, awarded every year since 1981 to the Miamian “who best demonstrates an unequaled love and commitment to South Florida as a place to live and work.”

(Recent winners include University of Miami president Donna Shalala and entertainment power couple Gloria and Emilio Estefan.)

In the years since Mogul took over, United Way fundraising has tripled.

The organization has attracted significantly more volunteers than ever before and restored a reputation that had tumbled under a previous, unpopular president.

“I can’t think of anybody that’s done what Harve has been able to accomplish in this community,” said Tony Argiz, chairman of the commerce chamber and a former chairman of the the United Way.

But Mogul nearly didn’t come to Miami at all. It was 1990 and he was happy with his job leading a United Way chapter in Winston-Salem.

“I interviewed with the United Way down here as a favor,” said Mogul, who had worked for the service organization in several cities since 1973. “I didn’t know anything about Miami.”

At that time, the Miami chapter was in disarray. Funds were low and the makeup of the chapter’s board had not kept pace with the city’s changing face.

“Old Miam-ah sort of ran it at that time,” Argiz said.

Sue Miller, who served on the search committee that ultimately convinced Mogul to come to South Florida, agreed with that take. “We needed a different kind of leader,” Miller said. “Harve was inclusive, optimistic and willing to try new things.”

Mogul went to work immediately, broadening the chapter’s fundraising efforts by asking Miami’s wealthiest citizens to contribute rather than relying solely on employee drives. The United Way now raises nearly 60 million a year compared to the 19 million it took in when he arrived.

That has allowed the charity to expand and create new programs for child care, job training and substance abuse treatment, among many others.

As president, Mogul also helped a devastated city rebuild after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and steered the United Way through a different kind of storm: the financial crisis.

Gene Schaefer, president of Bank of America Miami and current chairman of the United Way, recalled a nervous board meeting during the financial crisis. “Harve stopped the conversation in its tracks and said that the people of Miami need us now more than ever,” Schaefer said. “He said we were going to do more, not less.”

In 2009, the United Way Center for Financial Stability opened its doors, offering financial coaching, free tax preparation and other services to working families and individuals.

“When people thought about not giving to the United Way, they also had to think about not giving to Harve,” said T. Willard Fair, president of the Urban League of Greater Miami. “That made a difference.”

But Mogul’s most important accomplishment may have been bringing Miami’s Hispanic and African American communities into the leadership of the United Way, which turned 90 last year.

“He understands our cultural differences, even though he’s not from here,” said Adolfo Henriques, CEO of Gibraltar Private Bank and winner of the 2009 Sand in My Shoes award.

Mogul said he has entertained offers over the years to leave Miami. But his roots in South Florida have grown too deep.

“For someone who’s always worked in the community, I never had a community before I came here,” said Mogul, who also worked at United Way chapters in Baltimore, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. “I moved around too much.”

“This is home,” he said. “And we have so much more to do.”

The award comes after a difficult year for Mogul.

His wife, Alesia Cruchley Mogul, an advocate for education and those with special needs, died in 2013 after a brief battle with cancer. The couple has two children.

Fair said Mogul always put his family first.

He recently accompanied Mogul and his younger son Maxwell, 27, who was born with Down’s syndrome, to a Miami Heat game. Seeing them together, Fair said, “brought warmth to my heart.”

“Too often we men bring these boys into the world and we think they can become what we want them to be without us caring for them and nurturing them into who they are,” Fair said.