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Author: Alex Northington

Cedar Hill Students Have Fun While Learning at STEM Fest

By Dionne Anglin

Nearly 200 Cedar Hill students left the classroom to have a hands-on learning experience at STEM Fest at JoLynn Maddox Teaching and Learning Center on Thursday.

Students got to participate in activities like coding a drone, building a bridge and making a balloon-powered car.

“It felt like I was a scientist, like somebody that makes things,” said sixth grader Kingston Preston. “I think it is something I might want to do because it’s fun, and it’s enjoyable.”

STEM Fest is an effort in large part thanks to United Way Metropolitan Dallas and several corporate partners, including Texas Instruments and the Perot Museum.

“These kids are getting exposed to hands on experiments using technology, they are programming drones with calculators, they are using facial recognition to understand machine learning and building bridges,” said Jennifer Sampson, president and CEO of United Way Metropolitan Dallas.

A major factor considered is how events like this help when it comes to efforts to mitigate the learning gap that resulted from the pandemic.

Research shows that students in Texas will need four to five years to fully recover from that learning loss.

“Coding and robotics I really felt a connection to it and I just hope the kids see a connection to that as well,” said Ford Blount, a high school senior and STEM advocate who volunteered at the event. “The kids, it’s so fun to see them light up as they get coding and stuff like that and make drones flip around in the sky.”

United Way leaders say programs like this are especially important in low-income areas, where students of color don’t have the type of enriched learning to help students catch up.

“You realize everything is a step-by-step process and anybody can do that process if they put their mind to it,” Blount said.

All Eyes on Austin: Our Health Policy Pre-Briefing for the 88th Texas Legislative Session

In preparation for the 2023 Texas legislative session, which begins Jan. 10, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas recently partnered with the United Ways of Tarrant, West Ellis, Grayson and Denton counties to host a special three-part virtual public policy series. During each event, our panels of experts explored the most pressing state policy issues facing North Texans in the areas of education, health and income.

Our final virtual event in the series, held Oct. 4, focused on health policy and featured experts who delivered insights into some of the key topics that are likely to come up this legislative session:

  • Stephen Love of the DFW Hospital Council, who discussed physical healthcare
  • Will Seilheimer of Meadows Mental Health Policy, who covered mental and behavioral healthcare
  • Jaime Olson of Feed Texas and the Texas Food Policy Roundtable, who explored the topic of food access
  • Kate Murphy from Texans Care for Children, who discussed child abuse prevention and CPS reform

These topics directly impact our own health priorities, which center around improving access to quality, affordable health resources—including health insurance coverage—for all North Texans.

View a video recap of the speaker’s remarks, or read on for highlights:

Stephen Love, DFW Hospital Alliance – Physical Healthcare


Will Seilheimer, Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute – Mental & Behavioral Healthcare


Jaime Olsen, Feed Texas and Texas Food Policy Roundtable – Access to Food


Kate Murphy, Texans Care for Children – Child Abuse Prevention & CPS Reform

Our three experts agreed that next year’s legislative session is likely to have significant impacts on the state’s health policy.

Love began by offering a reminder of the importance of health coverage and access. He emphasized the need to expand Medicaid and to support post-partum mothers.

“We’re leaving $5 billion on the table every year,” he said. “All of us pay federal income tax. Those tax dollars are paying for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana, Oklahoma…but not here in Texas. So we’re going to support sponsoring bills to expand Medicaid. We also need to address maternal mortality; we’ve got a lot of women who die 12 months after birth. And unfortunately, 11% of live births are from African American women, yet 31% die from maternal mortality. That is a staggering statistic. We need to expand to 12 months Medicaid coverage [for post-partum mothers].”

On the topic of mental and behavioral health, Seilheimer discussed both children and youth mental health specifically, as well as challenges across the broader mental health system. Some of the key issues he expects the legislature to address include therapy tactics to reduce instances of youth violence, mental health services and telemedicine in schools, mental health for youth in foster care, long waitlists for mental health care and more.

Olsen shared that 13% of households in Texas are food insecure, making us one of nine states that are above the national average. She highlighted several topics around food access that the legislative may address this session, specifically around Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), our nation’s largest and most effective hunger program.

“Several of our priorities this session focus on improving access to SNAP, especially for vulnerable populations,” she said. “Our No. 1 priority is modernizing the SNAP vehicle asset test…which is a limit placed on the value of people’s vehicles in order to qualify for food assistance. This one policy keeps thousands of hungry Texans from accessing the program.”

Finally, Murphy outlined key priorities for child welfare policy, including the safety and sustainability of Texas’ foster care system, state investigations into families of transgender children, tactics for keeping families together and the rise of community-based care—all of which may be addressed this legislative session.

Advocate with United Way

As you can see from our All Eyes on Austin health event, the upcoming legislative session is poised to have a big impact on our state’s health policies. We invite you to join us in advocating for our key health priorities:

  • Expand prevention efforts and early intervention services seeking to divert families from the child welfare, juvenile justice and criminal justice systems
  • Expand access to affordable physical, mental, and behavioral healthcare
  • Enhance non-medical drivers of health, including transportation, food

Throughout the 140 days of the 2023 legislative session, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas will work with advocates like you to demonstrate community-wide support for key policy issues that impact education, income and health in North Texas. No one organization or person can successfully create significant change on any given issue; rather, we are most successful when we can rally the entire community—individuals, corporate partners, nonprofits and more—and make it a true movement.

Interested in learning more? Read our blog about how and why we advocate.

Get Ready for Election Day with the Texas Voter Bill of Rights

We hope every North Texan will make a plan to vote in the Nov. 8 General Election (or during early voting, which begins Oct. 24). Casting your ballot for races and issues is an important part of our role as Americans, and it has a direct impact on public policies in our community.

As a voter, it’s helpful to understand your rights so that you feel comfortable and confident in voting this year.

The Texas Voter Bill of Rights

If you are a registered voter in Texas, you have the right to:

  1. Vote free from anyone trying to harass or intimidate you into not voting or voting a certain way outside or inside the polling location.
  2. Vote free from anyone challenging or preventing you from voting who is not an election official behind a desk at the polling location.
  3. Vote if you are in line when the polls close.
  4. Use curbside voting and vote from a vehicle if you are a disabled person.
  5. Vote even if your name is not on the list (using a provisional ballot or, if you have your voter registration card, using a regular ballot). It will be counted if election officials later verify you are eligible to vote.
  6. Vote without a photo ID so long as you have other permitted forms of ID and fill out a form stating why you could not get a photo ID. (Examples are voter registration card, utility bill, check and other alternatives described at You are entitled to an explanation of any challenge to your ID.
  7. Vote using a regular ballot if the address on the list is correct, even if it does not match your ID.
  8. Vote using a regular ballot if the name on your ID does not exactly match your name on the list. (However, you will need to complete a form at the polling location.)
  9. Get election materials in Spanish or English (or in Vietnamese in Dallas County).
  10. Vote in-person if you applied to vote by mail but changed your mind. Bring your mail-in ballot to a polling site.
  11. Receive assistance to complete your ballot. You may choose who helps you, but it cannot be your employer or union representative.
  12. Cast a ballot privately without anyone looking over your shoulder, photographing or filming you, or listening to your conversation if someone is assisting you.
  13. Take written materials into the voting booth that will help you with voting. This could be a sample ballot, a voter guide or this Voter Bill of Rights.

Report any violation of these rights to the election judge and call the Election Protection Hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE.

Learn More

Looking for more information about this year’s election? View our election guide, which includes early voting dates, details about vote by mail, links to find your polling place and more.

For more information about voting, visit

Advocate With United Way

Election Day is only the beginning of a very busy time in Texas politics. The Texas Legislature begins its 88thsession on Jan. 10, kicking off an extremely important 140-day stretch, during which United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and the Live United movement will advocate by contacting our elected representatives.

Remember, lasting change only happens when we work together. Sign up for our Advocacy Alerts, and join us as we speak up and speak out about how education, income and health policies impact our community and advocate to expand opportunities and drive systemic change.

Here are our key legislative priorities for this session:


  • Strengthen affordable high-quality early education
  • Close student achievement gaps and create pathways for students to college or a career
  • Achieve digital equity and inclusion for all


  • Ensure access to safe, quality, affordable housing stability for all
  • Enhance innovative solutions for moving workers into good jobs and ensuring employers have a pipeline of skilled, ready-to-work employees
  • Expand access to financial products that will allow Texans to build and grow savings and assets


  • Expand prevention efforts and early intervention services seeking to divert families from the child welfare, juvenile justice and criminal justice systems
  • Improve comprehensive health by expanding access to affordable and quality physical, mental and behavioral healthcare programs and services
  • Enhance non-medical drivers of health, including transportation and food

These issues directly impact our way of life in North Texas. We hope you’ll join us as we speak out on these and other important topics.

Advocacy Resources

New to advocacy or interested in learning more about key policy concerns? Get ready for the legislative session with these helpful resources:

Your Voting Guide for the Midterm Elections

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we encourage you to spend a little time familiarizing yourself with the races and candidates in your jurisdiction, as well as some of the key issues that are driving this election cycle.

Voting is one of the simplest, yet most powerful, duties we as citizens hold. It’s important for every citizen to be an informed voter. While many people only vote during presidential election cycles, every election directly impacts various factors of your life, such as who is on your school board or how your taxes are calculated. Your vote has the power to improve the quality of life in North Texas and drive positive changes that affect the education, income and health of our community.

This year’s General Election takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 8. Early voting begins Monday, Oct. 24 and ends Friday, Nov. 4.

During this year’s election, voters will decide on numerous local and statewide races, including their county judge, county clerk, state senator, state representative, member of the state board of education, Texas supreme court justice, comptroller, attorney, lieutenant governor and governor. Many local jurisdictions may also have a bond election.

To see the races and issues on your ballot, visit and type in your home address.

Know Before You Go

Bring a photo ID: You must present one of the seven acceptable forms of photo identification before you can vote:

  • Texas driver’s license
  • Texas election ID certificate
  • Texas personal ID card
  • Texas handgun license
  • U.S. citizenship certificate with photo
  • U.S. military ID card with photo
  • U.S. passport (book or card)

Your voter registration card is not mandatory to vote, but it’s a good idea to bring it if you have it. If your name is spelled differently on the official voter list than on your ID, showing your registration card may resolve the issue.

Voting locations: Polling locations may be different for early voting and Election Day, so visit your county’s election website—Dallas, Collin, Rockwall or Denton—to make sure you’re headed to the right location.

Be an educated voter: Save yourself time at the polls by being prepared. Do your research on candidates and propositions, and determine how you want to vote before getting to the voting machine. You can bring notes or a sample ballot with you to vote, but you’re not allowed to have partisan flyers with you in the voting booth. Create your own personalized ballot by visiting

Encourage your network: Make a plan to vote and invite your neighbors and friends to go vote with you.

Vote by mail: To be eligible to vote early by mail in Texas, you must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Be 65 years old or older
  • Be disabled
  • Be out of the county on Election Day and during the period for early voting by personal appearance
  • Be confined in jail, but otherwise eligible

You can request the application for a mail-in ballot from the Texas Secretary of State’s office. The deadline to submit a vote by mail application is Friday, Oct. 28. To learn how to request a vote-by-mail application and to submit your application, visit your county’s Elections Office website: DallasCollinRockwall or Denton.

Know your rights as a voter in Texas. View our Voter Bill of Rights before you cast your ballot this year.

Advocate With The Live United Movement

Election Day is only the beginning of a very busy time in Texas politics. The Texas Legislature begins its 88th session on Jan. 10, kicking off an extremely important 140-day stretch, during which United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and the Live United movement will advocate by contacting our elected representatives.

Remember, lasting change only happens when we work together. Sign up for our Advocacy Alerts, and join us as we speak up and speak out about how education, income and health policies impact our community and advocate to expand opportunities and drive systemic change.

Here are our key legislative priorities for this session:


  • Strengthen affordable high-quality early education
  • Close student achievement gaps and create pathways for students to college or a career
  • Achieve digital equity and inclusion for all


  • Ensure access to safe, quality, affordable housing stability for all
  • Enhance innovative solutions for moving workers into good jobs and ensuring employers have a pipeline of skilled, ready-to-work employees
  • Expand access to financial products that will allow Texans to build and grow savings and assets


  • Expand prevention efforts and early intervention services seeking to divert families from the child welfare, juvenile justice and criminal justice systems
  • Improve comprehensive health by expanding access to affordable and quality physical, mental and behavioral healthcare programs and services
  • Enhance non-medical drivers of health, including transportation and food

These issues directly impact our way of life in North Texas. We hope you’ll join us as we speak up and speak out on these and other important topics.

Advocacy Resources

New to advocacy or interested in learning more about key policy concerns? Get ready for the legislative session with these helpful resources:

  • Our blog on how and why we advocate
  • Recaps from our legislative session pre-briefings, which are separated by focus area: education policy, income policy and health policy

Coming Together to Promote Racial Equity in North Texas

On Oct. 6, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and Project Unity, brought together hundreds of North Texans with the goal of promoting racial equity in our community.

The event, called Breaking Bread and Building Bridges, was sponsored by Texas Instruments (TI) and is part of Project Unity’s Together We Dine program, a series of networking events where participants share a meal with strangers while engaging in courageous conversations about race relations. The goal is to encourage safe, productive dialogue about racial equity and break down barriers that exist between us.

Breaking Bread and Building Bridges kicked off with a panel discussion led by TI Chairman, President and CEO Rich Templeton that included two leading voices in our community: Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia and Project Unity Founder Reverend Richie Butler.


Then, the focus of the event shifted to facilitated dinner conversations among attendees, led by trained facilitators from Project Unity. These transformational conversations allowed everyone to contribute their perspective and lived experiences about racial issues that impact our community.

Special thanks to Tocqueville Society Circle Co-Chairs, Carol and Don Glendenning, for hosting this special event, as well to Café Momentum and the Dallas Police Department for their participation.

Read on for highlights from the panel discussion, or click below to view the video recap.



To kick off the panel discussion, Templeton reiterated that companies are only as strong as the communities in which they operate. He said one of the most important tenets of every strong community is that all people are policed equitably and that our city is a safe place to live and work for everyone. He began by asking Garcia to talk about the importance of trust in police officers.

Garcia responded, “One of the biggest things in policing, not just in Dallas, is the trust with our community. The first time that communities see us cannot always be in a moment of crisis.”

He explained that police officers are continually working to humanize themselves with the community.

“The men and women that we have in this department truly believe that we need to humanize each other with the community—that we need to have the community look at us as mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and look through the uniform,” he said. “And we need to look at the community as well and humanize them, before we jump to conclusions as to what’s going on. They are people…who are just trying to live in their communities. And we need to work hard on that.”

Garcia acknowledged that his department has to remember the mistakes of the past.

“We need to also recognize that the badge that we wear so proudly today did not always shine so brightly—that we have made a lot of mistakes in the history of law enforcement that unfortunately has impacted our communities, in particular our communities of color,” he said.

Next, Templeton asked Butler to tell the crowd about Project Unity’s partnership with Garcia as they work toward a more equitable community.

“At Project Unity, we’ve leaned into the issue around community and police relations,” he said. “As chief has already indicated, oftentimes in communities of color, the only time we engage with law enforcement is a time of crisis. One of the things we’ve strived to do is to create opportunities or times of calm where we can recognize each other’s humanity and embrace each other and start to build relationships, for example.”

Butler closed out the panel discussion by calling on all North Texans to contribute to the goal of improving racial equity in our community.

“Together we can make a difference and a change,” he said. “I will submit this to you on this evening, whether it’s race, whether it’s police, community issues, food deserts, etcetera…If the communities that are in need could have changed the problem on their own, do you not think it would’ve been done a long time ago? What that means is that we are called collectively to be part of the change. And so I hope and pray that we leave this event tonight invigorated, inspired and committed to be part of the change.”

How to Get Half a Million More Texans to Embrace Obamacare? Show Them the Money

Here’s something that’s usually not bigger in Texas: growth in Obamacare.

For years, Texas has been a laggard in signing up residents on, despite leading the nation in the number of uninsured. In 2020, just 30% of Texans eligible for subsidized coverage signed up, far less than the share of eligibles who enrolled nationwide.

But for 2022, the state posted a gain of nearly 550,000 enrollees on the health exchange. That was a one-year increase of 42% — the biggest in the country and twice the average gain for all states, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Enrollment rose across the board in Texas: in all age groups, among men and women, and in every income bracket.

Enrollment has been climbing since the pandemic, and the momentum got a big push from the Biden administration, which approved billions in expanded subsidies to make coverage more affordable.

For 2019, fewer than 1.1 million Texans enrolled in Obamacare, the lowest total since the second full year of the Affordable Care Act. That number grew to 1.29 million for 2021 and to over 1.84 million for 2022 — easily the largest total for the state.

The peak may be topped soon. Open enrollment for 2023 begins Nov. 1 and runs through Jan. 15. Community leaders are gearing up for another big season.

“Nearly all the people who do not enroll in a plan [say] it’s because they think they can’t afford it,” said Daniel Bouton, senior director of family and community health at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.

That may have been the case in earlier years of Obamacare, but it’s a lot different now, he said.

After the pandemic, Congress approved billions in health-related relief, including higher tax credits for people buying on the exchange. The expanded subsidies the last two years eliminated or reduced premiums for millions of enrollees, and average annual savings topped $700 a person this year, the government said.

For 2022, 94% of Texans signing up on received subsidies for premiums. Over 60% got help with deductibles and co-pays.

For those getting a subsidy, the average premium was $60 a month, and nearly four in 10 Texas customers paid $10 or less after tax credits.

“Those subsidies — that’s reason No. 1″ for the surge in enrollment, Bouton said.

That bodes well for next month’s enrollment and beyond. In August, Congress passed a climate and health bill known as the Inflation Reduction Act, and it included $64 billion to keep the expanded subsidies through 2025.

The government expects to recoup those costs and more with several initiatives, such as allowing negotiations for certain drug prices.

If the extra support for subsidies had not been extended, many would have faced premium shock. They include 1.1 million consumers whose household income topped 400% of the family poverty level, which is $92,000 for a family of three.

Those higher earners were excluded from subsidies in the past; they’re eligible now if their health plan costs exceed 8.5% of income.

Insurers are raising rates on the exchange to keep up with inflation, and Bouton estimated that prices in North Texas are increasing about 7% to 10%.

Most enrollees will be protected by higher subsidies, he said. But do they realize it?

Getting the word out is a key part of the mission of navigators. They’re trained experts who help people evaluate and apply for plans on the exchange.

For 2019 enrollment, the Trump administration reduced funding to $10 million for the program, down from $63 million in 2016.

A year ago, the Biden administration increased the award to $80 million, quadrupling the number of navigators — and said the investment helped cut the nation’s uninsured rate to a new low. In late August, the government said it would invest nearly $99 million in navigator organizations for 2023 enrollment.

“We are doubling down on investing in community navigators who can help people find the coverage they need,” Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in a statement.

About $2.8 million is coming to the North Texas region this year, Bouton said, and United Way of Metropolitan Dallas is overseeing the grant money. It’s helping train navigators and groups that reach underserved communities.

Many Dallas residents face barriers to getting coverage, Bouton said, because they don’t know how to use or optimize subsidies or choose a plan for their pre-existing conditions.

“Navigators try to remove those barriers,” he said.

“We’re here to help; we’re not selling anything,” said Tikisa Jackson, director of community health at CitySquare, a Dallas nonprofit offering an array of social services. “We’re providing people with the knowledge to make the most informed decision for their families.”

CitySquare has six navigators and plans to hire another, she said, and they emphasize building trust. United Way also uses mobile offices to reach residents and assist them in completing documents.

North Texas has about 39 certified navigators helping people in 16 counties, Bouton said. He encourages residents who are unsure about coverage to call United Way or go to its website to fill out a form requesting free assistance.

Brokers and insurance companies also assist shoppers on, and there will be local health fairs to share information and boost enrollment.

The health law was unpopular in its early years, but support has been strong since 2017. That’s when Republicans tried to replace the law with a “skinny repeal,” and the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., famously voted a thumbs down — keeping the Affordable Care Act in place.

In March, 55% of adults said they had a favorable opinion of the law compared with 42% holding an unfavorable view, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation health tracking poll.

Expanded subsidies and greater outreach should keep drawing more Texans to the exchange, in part because the potential pool is so large, said Stacey Pogue, senior policy analyst at Every Texan, an Austin advocacy group.

Texas has about 5 million uninsured, with about 2 million eligible for subsidies today.

That’s a rich opportunity to improve lives, Pogue said: “There’s a huge demand for coverage when it’s affordable — that’s the takeaway.”

, Business columnist. He covers a wide range of topics.

PepsiCo Foods CEO Believes ‘Your Attitude Will Determine Your Altitude’

If you want to see Steven Williams’ eyes light up, mention Nacho Cheese Doritos.

As CEO of PepsiCo Foods North America, the 56-year-old oversees a $21 billion portfolio of chips, dips and convenience foods: Doritos, Lay’s, Cheetos, Tostitos, Ruffles, Fritos, Stacy’s Pita Chips, SunChips, Quaker snacks and hot breakfast cereals.

But of the thousands of offerings, Williams’ go-to snack is a bag of nacho cheese triangles. He likes to pair them with an ice-cold Pepsi Zero.

“I’m old school,” Williams said unapologetically.

As head of the nation’s largest snack food company, Williams is one of the highest-ranked minority executives in corporate America.

PepsiCo Foods has 70,000 employees working at 500-plus locations throughout the United States and Canada, including 6,500 employees in the Dallas metro area working at Frito-Lay North America headquarters in Plano, its R&D center, global IT unit, multiple plants and warehouse facilities.

Williams travels extensively to meet with customers and check on operations but is based at the Frito-Lay headquarters campus on Legacy Drive in Plano. All of Frito-Lay and Quaker in North America reports to him.

But beyond his company and the upper echelon of D-FW business communities, Williams is not well known.

He says he doesn’t see the value in self-aggrandizing.

Williams has never done an in-depth interview — print or broadcast. He says he’s only doing this one because Jennifer Sampson, CEO of United Way Metropolitan Dallas, said he should.

“When Jennifer asks for something, you do it,” Williams said in his executive conference room that overlooks a lake and tree-lined walkways.

PepsiCo bought Quaker in 2001, and Williams, who had been at Quaker for four years, came along with the deal. Eighteen years later, he was promoted to chief executive of PepsiCo’s North American food business after moving steadily up the corporate ladder.

In three years as CEO, Williams has guided PepsiCo Foods through the pandemic, sent Aunt Jemima packing, helped assemble millions of dollars to support southern Dallas, and greenlighted a half-dozen innovations that delivered a first-year return on investment of at least $100 million.

In June, Frito-Lay North America signed on as a regional sponsor of the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar.

Williams has eyes on making subsequent sponsorships with the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 and the 2026 FIFA World Cup. He wants to make sure the 4 billion soccer fans around the world are well acquainted with Frito-Lay and Quaker products.

“This was our first foray into World Cup land,” he said. “We still have to negotiate those deals, but our intention is to go all in.”

$1 Billion in R&D

Williams is seen internally as a people-first leader who lets employees’ imaginations run free to bring ideas to life — and sometimes a quick death — at warp speed.

He invests about a billion dollars in capital every year to feed PepsiCo Foods’ innovation machine with new products, packaging and manufacturing equipment.

Frito-Lay’s 2019 acquisition of BFY was among the big payoffs. The company makes PopCorners, triangle-shaped chips that are made of popped yellow corn — not popcorn — and are strong enough for dipping.

The company has built that business significantly in the last three years and intends to expand it further.

Marisa Perez, a senior vice president at PepsiCo Foods who searches for new avenues of growth, said Williams has an undeniable magnetic pull.

“Steven knows how to be effective no matter if he is working with the front line or executives in a board room,” Perez said. “His passion and energy are contagious. Because he cares so deeply, so does everyone around him.”

Williams is a strong proponent of diversity, starting with his executive committee. In addition to Williams, it consists of 13 people, including six who are women and three who are Asian.

Brian Cornell, CEO of Target Corp., was at PepsiCo and got to know Williams after the company bought Quaker Oats in 2001.

“I immediately recognized Steven’s strong ability to identify goals, set a clear and focused agenda for reaching them, and — most importantly — the way he rallies and brings his teams along with him, each step of the way,” Cornell said.

“He is incredibly devoted to his family and always there for his friends — and anyone who knows Steven knows his big, signature Steven Williams smile.”

Humble Beginnings

Williams grew up in the tiny town of Haskell, Okla. — about 45 minutes south of Tulsa — as the youngest of nine children.

His father was a pastor of a small Baptist church in a neighboring town who sold insurance when he wasn’t preaching, performing funerals or weddings. His mother was a high school cafeteria worker who cleaned houses or whatever else she could do to help the family get by.

He and his siblings were spread out by more than 25 years, so there were never more than four or five kids sharing their small three-bedroom house.

“We grew up without much,” Williams said. “But I didn’t know that we didn’t have much until I got out into the world. The upbringing that we had was special.”

One reason Williams looks back at his childhood with such warmth is his father was a relentless optimist who took in homeless people even though he had small children in the house.

“He would always turn the other cheek, regardless,” Williams said. “Think about a Black man born in 1915 in Oklahoma. He saw a lot, but he always treated everybody fairly and with respect.

“His prayer each night was that he would wake up with eyes that could see and ears that could hear.”

The most important piece of wisdom from his father that Williams took to heart: “Your attitude will determine your altitude.”

“Early on, I knew that I wanted to be a good person and do better,” Williams said. “But I never put a line in the sand and said that I wanted to do X, Y, Z. I’ve got a lot of energy, and that allows me to serve — not just myself but others.

“I don’t want to be remembered as someone who was great but because of the impact I had on other people. I firmly believe that.”

Williams isn’t into organized religion but is deeply spiritual, he said. “The two big things that always make me feel small are the mountains and the seas. You look at them, and you know that man didn’t create them.”

A Life in Retailing

Williams has been in retail since he stocked shelves and sacked groceries at the Ridley grocery store in Haskell when he was 13. He made about $2.50 an hour.

“I still think of being in the grocery business, even though we make snacks,” Williams said.

Today, he’s much better paid and has much better office digs.

According to 2022 proxy materials, Williams made $6.3 million in total compensation last year — a big raise from the previous year and an indication of the PepsiCo board’s appreciation for his accomplishments.

“Trust me. I never imagined in a million years that I’d go from that little small town, where I didn’t even know we were poor, to be here today at this amazing company,” he said.

After graduating from high school in 1984, Williams worked in the retail industry until he went back to school to get his bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Central Oklahoma in 1996.

“The value of hard work can’t be overstated nor can the experience of working in retail,” he said. “The world is full of different people. The quicker you learn how to deal with people who are different from you, the better off you’ll be.”

Lessons from Bentonville

Williams likes to say he did two “tours of duty” with Walmart when he worked at PepsiCo’s offices in northwest Arkansas near Walmart’s Bentonville headquarters.

What did he learn?

“Wow,” he said with a hearty laugh. “How to have thick skin.”

Williams was in his 30s when he was deployed the first time. That’s when he learned the “sundown rule.”

“If you get a call or email from somebody at Walmart, you need to have it answered by sundown,” Williams said. “You learn this sense of urgency and the pace of business.”

He says he still operates with Walmart drive and intensity.

“It was one of those times in my career when I felt that I was having the best time of my life,” Williams said. He and his wife, Christy, had a young daughter and son. “We were living in a house bigger than I ever thought we’d live in. Nice neighborhood. Great neighbors. It was one of those moments when you think, ‘Wow! This is really good. I could do this for a long time.’ But then my ambition kicked in, and I said, ‘OK, I gotta go and grow some more.’ ”

Four years later in 2012, Williams was dispatched back to Arkansas to rebuild PepsiCo’s global relationship with Walmart, which includes its U.S. stores, Sam’s Club and Walmart International.

“We had lost our way,” Williams said. “Brian [Cornell] asked me to go back to get that business back on the rail. I think it worked. My prior track record and the overall impact I was able to have on PepsiCo’s business gave the organization the confidence that I could play at this level in the company.”

John Furner, president and CEO of Walmart U.S., isn’t surprised by Williams’ success.

“He’s grounded and honest, and he’s always understood that it’s not about him,” Furner said. “He leads by bringing out the best in others.”

Divorcing Aunt Jemima

A year after he was named CEO of PepsiCo Foods, Williams had to decide what to do about Aunt Jemima.

The 130-year-old brand’s racist origins had troubled Williams for years, but the pancake mix icon was one of the world’s most recognized brand characters. She ranked right up there with the Pillsbury Doughboy and the Michelin Man, according to Ad Age.

PepsiCo Foods had debated her existence for years, changing the face on the labels for the syrup and self-rising pancake mix several times from her mammy beginnings. But the caricature was still offensive to many Black people, including Williams.

After George Floyd was murdered, Williams knew she had to go.

“The summer of 2020 was extremely tense, if you remember. A tough time,” Williams said. “Frankly, it was something that we should have changed a long time ago.”

The company changed the name to Pearl Milling, the original manufacturer of the mix.

It wasn’t a resounding hit.

“For the first year and a half, it was pretty rough,” Williams said. “We lost some consumers. We gained some consumers. It’s a great asset. It’s still the No. 1 mix-and-serve brand out there. The name needed to change, and we did it.”

‘The Steven Effect’

People are hearing more about Williams these days because he’s getting more deeply involved in the community.

He was a driving force behind Southern Dallas Thrives, a partnership of Frito-Lay North America, the PepsiCo Foundation and United Way.

Its goal is to improve preschool education, provide families with nutritious meals, prepare high school students for college or a career, and help women advance in the workplace by supporting them with child care and training.

“We believe that there is an opportunity to have more focused effort in a part of the community that needs it most,” Williams said.

About 25% of PepsiCo Foods’ Dallas metro employees live or work in the southern sector, he said. “We are southern Dallas, and it needs a hand up.”

Frito-Lay has been a major corporate supporter of United Way for nearly 50 years.

Williams wanted to do his part and agreed to lead United Way’s annual capital campaign for 2024-25, the nonprofit’s 100th anniversary.

“Children, women in need — wherever I see injustice, I want to make a difference,” he said. “This isn’t about me. I don’t care about being the chairman. But I know that I can make a difference and be a catalyst for others to follow. That’s why I took this on.”

There was no arm-twisting involved, Sampson said.

“Steven’s heart immediately said yes, but he took some time to think through the responsibilities, given the demands of his job,” she said.

“Steven cares deeply about building strong communities where everyone has the access and opportunity to thrive, but he’s also realistic about the obstacles we as a community must overcome, including a budget-starved education system, lack of living-wage jobs and unequal access to health care.

“When a leader like Steven calls on other corporate leaders in North Texas, they answer the call. And they engage,” Sampson said. “I call it the Steven effect.”

Where the Magic Happens

Williams was like Willy Wonka as he gave a tour of Frito-Lay’s mostly off-limits research and development center in late August — only his secrets are New Age chips, dips, packaging and manufacturing machines.

Snack eaters, it seems, are a “promiscuous” lot who constantly want new flavors, textures and ingredients.

“That’s what these guys are great at,” he said. “This is where the magic happens.”

He took delight in entering the culinary kitchen for a photo shoot. This one of Williams’ favorite stops on his tours.

“This is awesome,” Williams said.

During a media tour two weeks later, the team whipped up a sampling that included marinated grilled tofu summer rolls with reduced fat Funyuns and charred carrot and bok choy bowls with noodles, crunched up Rold Gold pretzels and spinach.

Oh, and let’s not forget the glazed eggplant with Reduced Fat Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos.

Carol McCall, R&D director of early stage innovation and culinary, has been with Frito-Lay for 22 years and says she’s never enjoyed her job more.

“Steven’s strong sales background is amazing for really understanding the consumer, how our business works and how to reach so many different audiences with compelling innovation and really big branding strikes,” said McCall, a certified culinary health scientist. “He’s very immersive. He collaborates and builds relationships. He eats everything that we give him.”

Well, almost.

Current flavor trends are cheesier, spicier and tangier; i.e., dill pickle and vinegar.

“You’ve got me on cheese. You’ve got me on spicy. I’m not quite there on Club Tangy,” Williams said. “We’re not a high-risk taker. We do so much consumer research that we really understand if an idea is going to be big or not. We’re not wrong very often.”

One case where Frito-Lay did miss the consumer mark was when it discontinued Fritos Bar-B-Q Flavored Corn Chips in 2018.

“People went nuts,” Williams said. “So we said, ‘OK, OK, OK. We’ll bring them back.’”


Article written by , Business columnist. Cheryl, a journalism graduate of SMU, has covered business for more than 45 years and gets her phone calls returned. She’s won numerous awards including several Katies from the Press Club of Dallas and a lifetime distinguished achievement award from the Society of American Business Editors and writers.

How and Why we Advocate for the North Texas Community

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, advocacy is an important part of the work we do to improve access to education, income and health for all North Texans.

By contacting our elected officials and educating them on the issues that directly affect our community, we’re able to impact public policy in ways that benefit our neighbors for generations to come.

In January 2023, the Texas Legislature will begin its 88th session. The 140 days of any legislative session are extremely important for advocacy. To prepare for this busy time , let’s take a closer look at why United Way of Metropolitan Dallas advocates, what exactly that work entails, how it benefits our community and how you can get started advocating with us.

Why We Advocate

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we’re focused on uniting the community to create opportunity and access for all North Texans to thrive. Our work addresses systemic barriers to equity to ensure all our neighbors have access to education, income and health—the building blocks of opportunity.

Advocacy is one of the key ways we drive progress toward our Aspire United 2030 goals: our 10-year vision that brings together all of North Texas to ensure more local students are graduating high school ready to succeed to college or career, more adults have access to living-wage jobs and financial security, and more families get the health resources they need to thrive.

We lead and invest in a variety of programs that improve education, income and health in North Texas. But it’s also important for us to work toward policy changes that impact those three areas. To bring about long-term community change, we must look at how current public policies at the local, state and federal impact our communities and then advocate for improvements.

No one organization or person can successfully create significant change on any given issue; rather, we are most successful when we can rally the entire community—individuals, corporate partners, nonprofits and more—and make it a movement.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to always ensure that our advocacy actions are synchronized, so everyone is speaking out with the same message, at the same time, to the same elected officials.

How We Advocate

To advocate is defined as “championing a cause.” It can encompass a broad range of activities, from building community awareness on a key issue to mobilizing groups to join the cause.

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we are in a unique position to pull together our investors, nonprofits, faith institutions, academia, businesses, community influencers and other United Ways to work collectively to speak out for change.

United Way works to amplify individuals’ voices on important community issues and provide a platform for people to take meaningful action that makes a difference. It may take years—or multiple legislative sessions—to pass these policies, but the results can change the trajectory of thousands of lives in our region.

For individual change-seekers like you, there are many ways you can advocate or champion an issue.. We make it easy to know when you should contact your elected officials by providing Advocacy Alerts during each legislative session. When you sign up to receive these emails, we’ll let you know when and how to contact lawmakers and, when appropriate, we’ll provide sample language that you can add to or edit as you see fit.

Some members of the Live United movement join us by advocating in person at the Texas State Capitol or in Washington, D.C. Another way to get involved is to join our annual advocacy event in November, where you’ll hear directly from policymakers about the key issues of the upcoming year.

While the idea of advocating may seem complicated at first, our goal is to ensure it’s very easy and accessible. And the more often you interact with your elected officials, the more comfortable you’ll become with sharing your opinions on key policy issues.

Our Advocacy Work in Action

Over the years, our Live United movement has helped to make real progress on a variety of policy issues, such as food insecurity in seniors, the quality of early childhood education and payday and auto-title loans.

One in five Texas seniors worry about having enough food. While the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is designed to help, only 36% of eligible Texas seniors are enrolled. Limited mobility, lack of access to or understanding of technology, and lack of reliable transportation are all potential barriers for seniors applying. Many also find the long application and documentation requirements confusing and overwhelming.

In 2019, during the 86th Texas Legislature, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas—in partnership with the Texas Food Policy Roundtable and the North Texas Food Bank—advocated for a simplified SNAP application and renewal process for low-income seniors. This policy was one of our top three legislative priorities for our organization that session, which means our organization directed the majority of its energy and resources toward advancing this issue.

That year, we trained our advocates on how to talk about the need for simplifying SNAP applications and renewals, especially with elected officials, and we tracked the progress of the bill throughout the session.

When the bill was moving, or we needed it to move, staff and advocates flooded legislative offices with calls and emails asking for their support. Throughout the session, we stopped by the Capitol offices of the 30 state legislators who represent our United Way of Metropolitan Dallas service area. Then, advocates met again with these legislative offices about this issue when they were in Austin for United Way of Metropolitan Dallas Day at the Texas Capitol.

In the end, time ran out, and the Texas House and Senate couldn’t pass the bill before the end of the 2019 session. However, the Live United movement and other advocates had created enough momentum to keep the issue in the spotlight.

Food advocates worked with legislators to get the bill refiled in 2021, where it passed both chambers with bipartisan support. Since then, Texas Health and Human Services has developed and launched the Texas Senior Assistance Program (TSAP), which allows Texas’ low-income seniors to apply for SNAP using a simplified application and process.

Another example of our advocacy work came during the 2021 legislative session, when advocates successfully pushed for legislation improving the quality of childcare, streamlining the system and requiring the state to create a plan for supporting the childcare workforce. In addition, that year United Way and our supporters also worked to encourage legislators to protect payday and auto-title loan ordinances that help to safeguard Texans from predatory loans.

How You Can Take Action

Lasting change only happens when we work together. That’s especially true when it comes to advocacy. The more voices we have supporting key legislative priorities, the more likely we all are to create meaningful change for our community.

Right now, you can take two important steps to make sure your voice is heard:

  1. Sign up for our Advocacy Alerts, and we’ll let you know how and when to contact your elected officials during the 2023 legislative session.
  2. Make sure you’re registered to vote! Check your registration status at Then, make a plan to vote so you are more likely to participate in this year’s election, the outcome of which is likely to have significant impacts on our community. Click here for more details on voter registration, voting locations, voter eligibility and more.
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