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O'Brien makes big impact as United Way leader

| Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, 12:10 a.m.
Morgan O'Brien, president and CEO of Peoples Natural Gas, is the new chairman of the board of the United Way of Allegheny County

As president and CEO of Peoples Natural Gas Co., Morgan O'Brien mined utility companies for money to support United Way of Allegheny County's region-wide hot line for social services.

O'Brien will start a two-year term as chairman of the United Way chapter's board in April and reached an agreement with Peoples, Equitable Gas, Columbia Gas, Duquesne Light and First Energy to contribute a combined $1 million a year for three years, starting this year.

The money will support 2-1-1, a call center for handling emergency social problems.

“Under Morgan's leadership, 2-1-1 has gone from a good idea to a great idea and has gone from just serving Allegheny County to now serving eight counties in the region,” said Bob Nelkin, president and chief professional officer of the United Way chapter.

The hot line serves Allegheny, Armstrong, Butler, Fayette, Indiana, Mercer, Washington and Westmoreland counties. Agency officials are talking about expanding it to Beaver, Greene and Lawrence counties.

“When we started a year-and-a-half ago, we were at 22,000 calls a year. By June 30 of 2013, we expect to be at 80,000 calls a year,” Nelkin said.

Under the service, an operator fields a call about one problem, such as inability to pay a utility bill, and asks the caller about other potential problems so that social service agencies can help meet all the person's needs.

“It's a broader view of trying to help people,” said O'Brien, 52, a Baldwin native who lives with his wife, Kathy, in Downtown. They have four children.

Besides chairing the 2-1-1 management committee, O'Brien served on the United Way search committee that brought Nelkin to the agency. He chaired the chapter's fund drive about four years ago.

As board chairman, he will try to rally corporate and union leaders to support the United Way campaign.

One of his goals is to encourage Chevron, Exxon and Shell — companies with offices here because of Marcellus shale — to join the fund drive. He also would like to get United Way chapters to work together more.

“If there are gaps, maybe together with other United Ways we can create new programs or expand the programs we have,” he said.

O'Brien holds a bachelor's degree in business administration and a master's degree in taxation, both from Robert Morris University. Before becoming CEO at Peoples three years ago, he led Duquesne Light for eight years and worked for PNC Bank and major accounting firms.

Although an energy executive, O'Brien said when it's practical he likes to ride the Port Authority T from Downtown to his North Shore office.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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