CINCINNATI (Sept. 15, 2023) — Jeanetta Darno places high value on connecting with communities and building relationships.
That's true today, more than three years into her role as Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer for UC Health, where she works to ensure employees and patients have equitable, positive experiences. And it was true years ago when, as a student at Jackson State University, she signed up for Army Reserve Officers Training Corps.
Her father, two brothers and sister served in the military. For Jeanetta, the allure was connecting with a like-minded community of competitive, patriotic people. "If you know who you are and what you value," she says, "it's easier to connect to people who value the same things."
After graduation, she became a commissioned Army logistics officer. Overseas assignments took her to Egypt and South Korea. Then, following Iraq's 1990 invasion of neighboring Kuwait, she deployed to the Middle East as part of Operation Desert Storm.
Top generals, including Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the leader of coalition forces during the Gulf War, relied on Capt. Darno's team to move equipment, supplies and soldiers into the war zone. "Whether it was by rail, ship, plane or truck, it all came through us," Jeanetta says.
During the seven months she was in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, "I didn't lose one soldier. Came close in a couple of situations, but no loss of life." She attributes that to the trust, relationships and camaraderie she built with her troops.
Over the course of her seven years in the Army, which included time at bases in Texas, Georgia and Virginia, Jeanetta began donating to United Way. "For me, giving was a way of connecting to a community and having a commonality," she says.
It also was her way of heeding the biblical words her parents repeated often: To whom much is given, much is required.
Her story, though, has humble beginnings. As a preschooler, she attended Head Start. Her family ate government cheese, a staple for many low-income Americans.
Her support of United Way began when her income was modest and has continued throughout her post-military career. She has worked in 17 states in industries that include retail, finance and health care. Along the way, she earned a master's degree in human resources from the University of Central Texas and an MBA from Ohio State University.
"With all the facets of my life — whether it's Army veteran, first-generation college student, transplant to a city where I don't know anyone, someone who came from a humble, unprivileged background — it became a matter of who can best help those communities. And that was United Way. So everywhere I moved, I connected to United Way."
Until about 10 years ago, she donated anonymously, except when contributing through a workplace campaign. "Humble beginnings, humble person," she explains.
But she came to realize the importance of being more visible. "I want people to see that Jeanette Darno, who just happens to do diversity work, is out in the community and gives. I have a burning desire for people — particularly Black people — to donate not only to their church, but to the community. And United Way, to me, is that vehicle.
"If you want to be part of a city and help the city continue to advance and be great, there's a responsibility. And that means being more involved with United Way."
FUN FACTS ABOUT JEANETTA
"Three things I've done recently: I rode in a hot air balloon, just me and a pilot. I did a tandem skydiving jump. And I started work on my Ph.D. The hot air balloon and skydiving were moments of peace — moments to reflect on life."