Milford United Way’s new CEO wants to spread the gift of giving

Barry Berman, the new CEO of Milford United Way, in Milford, Conn. June 10, 2022.

Barry Berman, the new CEO of Milford United Way, in Milford, Conn. June 10, 2022.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

MILFORD — Barry Berman knows all too well he has big shoes to fill as he steps into the top role with the Milford United Way.

Berman — long known for his role in starting the Connecticut Radio Network — is taking over the nonprofit’s CEO position from Gary Johnson, who recently retired after 44 years with the organization.

“I’m really taking over on his shoulders because he’s done such a phenomenal job,” said Berman. “He is really an amazing and inspirational guy, and in the short time I’ve known him, and in my first week of also being here, he’s done a tremendous job.

“What I’m doing is basically taking what he’s done, which is remarkable, and hopefully bringing it to the next level,” Berman said.

Johnson said he felt the time was right to retire as changes were coming in the ways the organization raises money and how and where that money would be distributed.

“The board is having initial discussions on possibly changing the focus of the organization, so bringing in a new person might be a good thing at this point,” Johnson said. “Not to mention that 44 years is a long time with one organization.”

Berman started Connecticut Radio Network after he graduated from the University of Connecticut. The network offered news, weather and sports programming to some 55 Connecticut radio stations.

During his tenure at CRN Radio, the network created the New England Ski Watch.

“We didn’t rely on the ski areas for conditions. We had skiers who were on the slopes tell us if the conditions were terrible or good,” he said.

The ski watch became popular in Connecticut. And as program directors moved from station to station, they took the show with them, Johnson said.

“So all of all sudden, the show started to pop up all over New England.”

Maxwell House Coffee saw what they were doing and reached out to Berman to take the show nationwide.

“I told them it was going to cost $1 million or more, and they told me they were a big company, and to create a pitch,” he said. “So I did, and we had a $1 million contract early on.”

As the company grew, their opportunities to work with major brands that were associated with cold weather, such as Campbell Soup and Jeep.

“Then Connecticut Radio Network turned into CRN International,” he said. “We started to work with major companies like BMW, Hershey’s, Chrysler, Johnson and Johnson that would want to use media differently. So we ended up being a marketing company specializing in broadcast.”

While at CRN, Berman and his team created CRN Helping Hands.

“It from the bottom up, we had 100 percent participation in the things that we did,” he said. “It wasn’t just about money, it was about going to homeless shelters and painting them, it worked.”

In 2020, Berman semi-retired, as he was still doing some consulting work and was working on podcasts they had.

“The pandemic hit, and I thought maybe I’m done, and I’ll just do some consulting work,” he said.

Berman started to take guitar lessons and did some traveling, but he felt as if something was missing.

“Somebody reached out to me if I would be interested in this position, and at first, my knee-jerk reaction was no,” he said. “It was all-encompassing, but I said I had a few protegees at CRN that would be ideal for the position.”

He started to do his research on Milford United Way, and what the non-profit was doing statewide and nationally to make the pitch.

“But I saw that the United Way here seemed to need to be transformed,” he said. “It has been doing very well for a long period, but in my view, it needed to move forward.”

It also seemed to Berman that the United Way needed to be made more contemporary.

During the pandemic, one of Berman’s friends had died. As a way to remember his legacy, Berman went to the location where his friend would often help people in need and gave some money to someone who could use it.

“I drove about 150 miles, and then all of a sudden, I was hit with this overwhelming feeling of goodness. I felt great, and it came on me by surprise” he said. “I was thinking about this job, and I remembered telling the people who interviewed me at the time the way I felt that day is the way I want everybody to feel when they give to United Way.”

That kind of ethos can go a long way to taking the organization to the next level, he added.

Berman said the people at United Way are committed, “but we need to become a greater presence in this community.”

Another way of transforming Milford United Way is to bring in more young people from the Gen Z and Millennial generations and engage younger generations coming up.

“We need to become far more technologically savvy,” said Berman. “Because this day and age, people are donating in different ways, and we seem to need a digital and technological overhaul.”

He said he was looking forward to working with everyone in the community, but especially younger people.

“Because one event is popular for one generation, it may not be popular for the other,” he said. “They may not be into golf tournaments, but they would like to do an event at a local brewery.”

He said the Milford community is quite diverse, from income to ethnicity to age.

“We have to be mindful of those communities, and all those communities need to be reached differently. They all have their own needs in their ways, and they are all living here,” Berman said. “We need to be mindful of their individuality, inclusiveness and understand we are here in a local community where we need to be taking care of ourselves as a community. And technology would end up being the glue.”

But most of all what he wants Milford’s communities united in is the gift of giving, he said.

“That is why it took the gig,” he said.