The Volunteer Way founder Lester Cypher embraces his successor as the organization’s CEO, Alice Delgardo, the former head of United Way of Pasco. After 27 years leading the faith-based food charity in the Port Richey area, Cypher wants to spend more time with his wife.

PORT RICHEY — Alice Delgardo, the former president and CEO of United Way of Pasco County, has accepted the CEO position of The Volunteer Way following the retirement of its founder, Lester Cypher.

Delgardo began her new position Oct. 31.

Cypher founded the faith-based nonprofit organization 27 years ago as a means to help financially insecure individuals meet their basic needs by providing food, personal items and other resources.

With its main site on Congress Street north of Pine Hill Road, and an outreach facility in the Moon Lake area, The Volunteer Way serves more than 23,000 families a month, not counting the hundreds which are served through its mobile facility.

For years prior to the move to its current headquarters, Volunteer Way operated out of a building just south of the intersection of Congress Street and Orchid Lake Road that once served as a Florida motor vehicle inspection station.

Cypher said the decision to step down as Volunteer Way CEO was not an easy one but was facilitated by a desire to spend more time with his wife.

“I’ve been doing this as a volunteer for 33 years and my concern was always The Volunteer Way,” Cypher said. “God has given me gifts to work from nothing to build it up to a certain amount. I don’t have the gifts to go above that. That’s why I though of Alice because she has those gifts that I don’t have. It was time and God was leading me. All things pointed to, ‘Lester, it’s your time.’”

He admits it will be a major life adjustment, having reported to his office at 5 a.m. every morning for more than two decades.

“I enjoy it. I love it. It’s part of my life,” Cypher said. “But, there’s a season for everything.”

As a member of the board of directors, he added, “I can sneak in once a month and see what’s going on.”

Cypher said he had known Delgardo and was aware of her retirement from United Way of Pasco because of knee surgery.

Delgardo, a former licensed practical nurse, was president and CEO of United Way Pasco from November 2016 until October 2018. Prior to that she was its vice president of community impact.

“One of the most important things to me is this place stayed a ministry,” Cypher said. “This is not about money, this is about helping people. We do a lot more than hand out food. Knowing that Alice was a strong Christian, I knew that this would stay a Christian organization. I know it’s in good hands.”

Delgardo said the two of them spoke about the possibility of her taking the Volunteer Way CEO job in September.

“He told me his heart and asked me to pray about the decision to succeed him,” Delgardo said. “I didn’t get the answer until two weeks ago this would be my assignment.”

Cypher had begun discussions with the board of directors and was preparing to organize a CEO search committee.

“Lester told them his candidate and the board replied by saying they didn’t need a committee,” Delgardo said. “They gave me their full support. I thought that was very humbling and very flattering. Lester said they were just waiting on me. Two weeks after that, I got the answer from God this is where I should be.”

Cypher noted the average church in the United States has 75 members.

“Those pastors, in order to have the honor of preaching, have to have another job,” he said. “The point I’m trying to make is the church cannot afford to do what we do. We are unique in that we don’t charge a penny for what we do. If we close our doors today, there are going to be 40 or 50 ministries that will have to close their doors.”

Cypher said it was always a pleasure to come to work at Volunteer Way and “give back.”

“I was blessed and successful, but I never felt as good as when I was able to help others,” Cypher said. “I was honored I could be a part of this.”

Delgardo said the Volunteer Way will remain firmly on the foundation Cypher has laid.

“One of the things I hear is, ‘How are you going to fill Lester’s shoes?’ The reality is no one can fill Lester’s shoes,” Delgardo said. “My role is to make sure those shoes move in a forward direction. My faith and trust is in the Lord. I look to the Lord for guidance as to what I should do and where I should go with The Volunteer Way.

“We can give encouragement. We can give food. And, we can give a smile.”