United Way announces new goal to help lift 10,000 families out of poverty by 2021

'It's all in'

CINCINNATI -- United Way of Greater Cincinnati is doubling down on its efforts to help local families find a path out of poverty, pledging to help 10,000 low-income families by the end of 2021.

The group known as the Child Poverty Collaborative already had pledged to help lift 5,000 Hamilton County families out of poverty in that time. This new goal aims to help an additional 5,000 families from throughout the rest of the Greater Cincinnati region, said Ross Meyer, United Way’s senior vice president and chief impact officer.

Ross Meyer

To do that, United Way will invest 80 percent of its funds in programs that help lift children and families out of poverty. Another 15 percent of United Way’s funds will be directed to programs that help individuals out of poverty, Meyer said.

“It’s all in, and that’s really what’s needed,” Meyer told WCPO. “We have a lot of tremendous partners that are doing good work. The challenge is that it’s not breaking the cycle long term.”

To try to break that cycle, United Way’s board of directors adopted the new strategy late Tuesday. 

The vote fulfills a promise made earlier this year when United Way announced it would distribute the majority of the millions of dollars it raises to local nonprofits working to help low-income children and families.

RELATED: United Way’s new focus on reducing poverty

And it comes less than a week after new U.S. Census Bureau data estimated that Greater Cincinnati has nearly 100,000 kids living in poverty. That’s roughly one out of every five children in the region.

RELATED: New data: We have nearly 100,000 kids in poverty

“Poverty is the single most challenging issue facing our community,” Julia Poston, United Way’s board chair, said in a news release. “Far too many people are struggling, and United Way is positioned to lead, innovate and invest in solutions that lift our community.”

United Way has been working over the last 18 months with nearly 100 community volunteers and all its various agency partners to craft the new strategy. The shift will result in funding for 11 programs and nonprofit organizations that have not received money from United Way in the past. Some organizations that have received money in the past will no longer get it, Meyer said.

“There are partners that no longer align towards the goals that we’re shooting for that will no longer be partners going forward,” Meyer said. “Those are tough decisions.”

‘Helping me get there’

Greater Cincinnati Urban League is among the local nonprofits that offers the types of services that United Way leaders believe truly help families get on the path out of poverty.

Consider Nikita Anderson. She has been working for years to make the right decisions. She graduated from high school, continued her education by getting an associate’s degree and has worked long hours while raising her four children.

Still, she couldn’t seem to get where she wanted to be for herself and her family.

But Anderson recently completed the Urban League’s Accelerated Customer Service Education Program and is hopeful the comprehensive help she received has put her on the right path to create a better life for her family.

Nikita Anderson

“I feel like the Urban League is helping me get there,” said Anderson, a 31-year-old Avondale resident. “I’m not there yet, but I’m closer than I was before I started the ACE class.”

The point of programs like those at the Urban League is to give low-income people the training they need to get ahead while also providing the help they need to clear the hurdles of transportation, wardrobe and child care that get in their way.

United Way calls those “wrap-around” services because of the way they surround families with support, and those are the kinds of programs that Meyer said United Way would be focused on funding throughout the region.

“That really demonstrates what we’re talking about,” Meyer said. “Working with the whole family in a concentrated way long-term to help them get ahead.”

Anderson is now working at a local nonprofit as part of the Public Allies Cincinnati program and is looking forward to the day when she can support her family on her own without financial assistance. She wants to earn enough money so her family doesn’t qualify for food stamps and subsidized housing. She wants to have a savings account and enough money to “give back,” she said.

“Not living check to check. Not being worried about how bills are going to get paid on a regular basis,” she said. “I would like to be able to own a home but own it smartly by having a mortgage I can afford. Some equity to leave my children when I’m done.”

‘All in this together’

Every parent has dreams for themselves and their children, and the United Way’s new focus aims to help local nonprofits help more families like Anderson’s define those dreams and how to get there, Meyer said.

“It really starts with understanding the families themselves and their own strengths,” Meyer said. “We’re all in this together.”

In all, United Way has about $34 million in funds that the organization can decide how to invest. That’s because some of the money it raises goes to the American Red Cross. And some donors decide which nonprofits will get the money they contribute.

Of that $34 million, United Way will be spending roughly $27 million on programs and nonprofits that help children and families out of poverty and another $5 million on programs and nonprofits that help individuals out of poverty.

The programs and organizations that will be getting United Way funding for the first time are:

• Center for Employment Opportunities

• CWFF Child Development Center

• Family Independence Initiative

• Healthy Homes Block by Block

• MORTAR

• Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission

• One Community One Family, Inc.

• Rosemary’s Babies Co.

• Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses

• The DAD Initiative, Inc.

• UMADAOP of Cincinnati, Inc.

United Way will begin allocating money to 144 partner organizations for its new investment cycle in 2018. The funding commitments will be made for four years, and United Way will evaluate its new partner agencies after two years.

More information about United Way of Greater Cincinnati and the Child Poverty Collaborative is available online.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and 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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