Always Positive

By Alexandra Krueger

After 20 years, CEO Andy Prokop Bids Farewell to United Way

Life hasn’t always been easy for Andy Prokop—but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t blessed. As CEO of United Way of San Joaquin County for two decades, and even long before then, Andy has maintained an aura of radiant positivity that he joyfully shared with his family, employees, and community through nonprofits.

And his dedication to the latter was no accident.

“When you follow my journey and look at both my childhood and corporate years, there were nonprofits throughout my entire life that were there to serve my needs,” says Andy. “Food, shelter, protection, clothing, etc.—there was always an agency out there that provided that for me.”

Like many of us, Andy was born to a dysfunctional family. At just five years old he was able to tell that his mother had a drinking problem. His father left when Andy was young, leaving Andy to be pulled along the violent current of his mother’s addiction.

But there was light at the end of the tunnel, appearing in the form of the foster care system. In his foster homes, Andy not only found constructive hobbies, but also the positive role models he so desperately needed. “I was blessed by people who opened their homes and hearts to me,” he recalls. “It set a good example, teaching me to be a good person and to be kind to people.”

Andy lived his life with that mentality, securing a job, going to college, and eventually being drafted into the US Army to serve in the Vietnam War.

“Even when I was in the military, I approached everything in a way that said, ‘I can do this, and I will do this,’” he remembers.

During the war, Andy found himself situated on the open edge of a UH-1 Helicopter, flying over the emerald green jungles of Vietnam. A Door Gunner and Air Frame Mechanic for three years in the US Army, Andy was able to return home without a scratch—and for that, he thanks God.

But being drafted had other consequences. Specifically, for many veterans of the Vietnam War, exposure to the herbicide and defoliant chemical “Agent Orange”. It is for that reason that Andy must bid farewell to United Way, and to San Joaquin. On doctor’s orders, Andy set his sights on a drier climate for his lungs, the likes of which can be found in Spanish Springs, Nevada.

“We’ll move in January and start our new life,” says Andy. “It will definitely include giving back to the community and being an instrument for good. I plan to join organizations that help veterans, children, feed people, or just one that’s a positive influence on the community. My arms are wide open.”

Though his mantra—and nickname—is “Always Positive”, closing the door to a 20-year journey still stirs up bittersweet emotions. After all, Andy grew with this organization and helped make United Way of San Joaquin what it is today.

“I could stay five more years,” laments Andy. “But I feel honored to have gotten to do this job as a servant to my community and doing my hearts work for almost two decades.”

When asked to recall a favorite memory at United Way, Andy cites a moment with the recently passed Alex Spanos.

“We used to put on the AG Spanos Golf Tournament, and one of the greatest moments of my life was when Mr. Spanos was standing next to me on the scoreboard—it looked like he was eight feet tall,” laughs Andy. “And Mr. Spanos had the biggest grin on his face: the golf tournament made so much money that we were able to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to our community.”

Andy’s favorite superhero is Wonder Woman: he’s always revered strong women. It’s only fitting, then, that his successor will be Kristen Spracher-Birtwhistle, co-founder of the Eleanor Project. Andy is confident Kristen will lead United Way down a successful path.

“I lived the life that prospered because of nonprofits,” states Andy. “I believe we’re turning the corner in our economy; discretionary dollars are becoming more abundant. I have total faith that my successor will excel, and so will United Way.” 

For More Information:
United Way of San Joaquin
777 N. Pershing Ave. Suite 2B, Stockton
(209) 469-6980

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