United Way of Greater Cincinnati to redirect millions of dollars to reduce child poverty

'It can't be business as usual'

CINCINNATI -- The United Way of Greater Cincinnati will dramatically change how it funds local nonprofit organizations in an effort to help move 10,000 local children and 5,000 families out of poverty over the next five years.

"We know that poverty is the underlying challenge that is holding back continued progress," incoming United Way board Chairperson Julia Poston said Saturday at the Child Poverty Collaborative's community summit. "Nearly one in three people in our region are struggling to make ends meet. We believe that the time has come for a new approach."

That approach will mean redirecting millions of dollars that United Way raises to nonprofit organizations that are helping low-income families with children -- specifically those that are collaborating with others to get results, said Ross Meyer, United Way's vice president of community impact. The United Way announced Friday it topped its 2016 fundraising goal, with an expected total of $62,115,000.

"It can't be business as usual," Meyer told WCPO after Saturday's summit. "There are going to be hard decisions that have to be made."

RELATED: Why we have so many poor kids in Cincinnati

The shift at United Way was one of five commitments that leaders of the Child Poverty Collaborative made at the end of Saturday's summit, which drew roughly 700 people to Duke Energy Convention Center in Downtown.

An estimated crowd of about 700 people attended Saturday's summit.

Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center CEO Michael Fisher, one of the collaborative's co-chairs, announced the others:

• The Child Poverty Collaborative will take responsibility for leading an approach the group is calling "One to One," which will partner families living in poverty with a life coach who can work with them to help them reach their goals.

"Every one of us has had a champion in our life. That's the spirit of what we're talking about here," Fisher said. "We will engage with these families for as many years as needed."

The collaborative also pledged to build a confidential data system so the group can track what is working and what can be improved as the strategy continues.

• In the first three months of 2017, local businesses have pledged to create a roundtable of human resources executives to come up with ways to "improvement employment opportunities and support for entry-level employees and beyond," Fisher said.

The goal is to figure out what policies are working at local companies and what could be improved, he told WCPO after the summit.

"The power of this is getting the folks together," he said.

At Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, for example, executives are looking at how schedules map up with the local bus system and the types of flexibility the hospital can provide to make it easier for employees to succeed, he said.

• The collaborative also is looking at legislative policies and practices that could be changed to empower more people.

The group expects to advocate for expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, increasing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and changes in law that smooth the so-called "cliff effect." That's where parents face a steep decrease in government benefits when their salaries increase, putting them deeper in the financial hole than they were originally.

• Fisher said the group also would continue to serve "as an important convener in the community."

"In the end, we are accountable to you, this whole community," he told the hundreds of people gathered. "In some cases, we'll lead efforts. In other cases, we'll support."

Collaborative leaders stressed Saturday that these strategies are just the beginning, and the work won't be easy.

But Dr. O'dell Owens, one of the group's six co-chairs, said he's confident the community can accomplish the collaborative's ambitious goals.

"We must feed people hope and encourage them. We must clothe them in empathy and compassion," Owens said. "In this room today, we have enough people to help with the journey if you commit."

The Child Poverty Collaborative is the largest of several efforts underway to reduce the region's childhood poverty rate.

A smaller group is working to create a "social laboratory" that will address strategies for systemic change in specific neighborhoods.

Dr. Victor Garcia, a trauma surgeon at Cincinnati Children's who is involved in that effort, said after Saturday's summit that he remains convinced that working within neighborhoods is the best approach.

"We'll keep trying," Garcia said.

Hundreds of people at the Child Poverty Collaborative's summit placed Post-it notes on a hand-drawn billboard with their pledges to do that same thing.

Participants wrote their commitments on post-it notes and placed them on a hand-drawn billboard at the summit.

More information about the Child Poverty Collaborative is available on the organization's website.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.

To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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