United Way of Greater Cleveland http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org Tue, 24 May 2016 18:42:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Cleveland’s Success depends on the Next Generation http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/clevelands-success-depends-on-the-next-generation/ http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/clevelands-success-depends-on-the-next-generation/#respond Tue, 24 May 2016 18:04:07 +0000 http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/?p=4841 Andrew Katusin By Andrew Katusin, Education Program Associate, United Way of Greater Cleveland

In Greater Cleveland, we come together to support collective success, especially for our children. That’s just who we are.

The success of future generations, and our larger community, is directly tied to quality education beginning with the development of one major skill: reading. Our community continues to rally behind its children to provide support and resources needed for success. Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), United Way of Greater Cleveland, foundations and other local nonprofit organizations understand the importance and joined together to create a network to help our children become strong readers.

But there’s a challenge: demand is high, very high. And resources like time, money, books and teacher trainings for schools and community nonprofits continue to dwindle due to changes in policy and local and state economies impacting how schools receive funding and an increasing diversity in needs. When demand outweighs our ability to help students learn the fundamentals of reading – identifying words, connecting visuals of a letter to the sound it makes or rhyming – we all lose, and will continue to lose.

According to United Way’s funded programs data, in the 2014-2015 school year only 40 percent of children assessed and identified as reading below grade level were able to receive the help they needed – even with programs serving 18 percent more students than anticipated. The other 60 percent will, most likely, not read at grade level, significantly increasing the likelihood they will drop out of high school and earn an average salary of $16,753 in Cuyahoga County (American Fact Finder 2014). That breaks down to working 40 hours a week, for 52 weeks without a break, and earning $8.05 an hour.

Supporting the 60 percent of students assessed would change the lives of more than 1,300 children.

Our Biggest Challenge is our Biggest Opportunity

I have had the honor of seeing how dedicated staff and tutors do it in our community’s schools and after-school programs. They do it by working long days. They hunt down parents who may be working multiple jobs for $8.05 an hour to tell them about their child’s progress. They persevere through roadblocks like knowing a child will go home and not have food to eat. Maybe most importantly, they take the time to show a child that someone cares.

You have the opportunity to be that someone for a student in our community. Visit www.volunteer.unitedwaycleveland.org where you will see various opportunities for you to engage and truly change a child’s life. He or she may not know it at the time, but will remember you and the time you gave. You’ll know that you increased his or her chances of not having to live on an $8.05 hourly wage by helping to develop the most important skill: the ability to read.

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United Way of Greater Cleveland Hosts Literacy Explosion Event at Five Schools http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/united-way-of-greater-cleveland-hosts-literacy-explosion-event-at-five-schools/ http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/united-way-of-greater-cleveland-hosts-literacy-explosion-event-at-five-schools/#respond Thu, 19 May 2016 18:06:33 +0000 http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/?p=4813 Literacy_CliffordOn May 19, United Way of Greater Cleveland hosted summer learning kickoff events at five Cleveland Metropolitan School District schools. Each event promoted summer learning with literacy-themed raffles, giveaways, prizes and an opportunity to sign up for summer reading programs at neighborhood libraries. Literacy Explosions were hosted at Harvey Rice, Patrick Henry, Almira, Walton and Case elementary schools.

“Research shows students are susceptible to losing a large portion of what they’ve learned throughout the school year once summer break hits,” says United Way Vice President of Community Impact Traci Jadlos. “Our goal is to keep our community’s kids engaged in summer learning by combining academics with fun, hands-on learning experiences.”

Approximately 150 University Hospitals staff members volunteered at the summer learning kickoffs to distribute literacy kits and engage with students. The event was the inaugural volunteer opportunity for UH150 – a yearlong celebration of University Hospital’s 150th anniversary.

“We are extremely proud of our relationship with United Way and are excited to partner with them for this campaign,” said Steven Standley, UH chief administrative officer. “We are celebrating giving back to the community with our 150th and collaboration with United Way is a natural fit as we both have helped shape Cleveland’s charitable landscape.”

The Cleveland Public Library also participated in the summer learning kickoff. Librarians were on site to host storytelling sessions and encourage students to sign up for library cards and the annual summer reading program.

Dave’s Supermarket provided more than 3,600 pieces of fresh produce to all five schools to serve as healthy, kid-friendly snacks for the event.

“United Way hosted these fun-filled summer learning kickoffs to remind more than 1,700 local students to continue reading and learning during their vacation,” said Jadlos.

Funding for United Way of Greater Cleveland’s literacy campaign, which includes the summer learning kickoffs, was provided by Red Nose Day USA – a $23 million campaign to address children’s issues in the United States and 14 other countries.

Literacy Explosion 5.19.16

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Advocacy is important part of community change http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/advocacy-is-important-part-of-community-change/ http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/advocacy-is-important-part-of-community-change/#respond Thu, 19 May 2016 13:30:27 +0000 http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/?p=4788 Michael Miller

One of our United Way calls to action is “Give. Advocate. Volunteer.” The “give” and “volunteer” concepts are clear, but what does “advocate” consist of?

Advocating is giving voice to issues and concerns that impact your community. It can be at a school board meeting, city council meeting, a public protest or even an email or letter to an elected official.

On May 5, I joined a group of advocates for transgender people, assembled by Equality Ohio, to meet with Rep. John Becker about his plans to submit an Ohio version of the “bathroom bill” that has made headlines from North Carolina.

Ten of us met Becker and one of his aides in a 12th floor conference room in the Riffe Center at 11 a.m. I believe both sides were nervous, but the conversation was measured and stayed on-topic.

Becker insists his legislation is necessary because of Target’s recent affirmation of its bathroom policy, which encourages people to use the restroom they are comfortable with. Becker describes Target’s policy as a “reckless” “threat to public safety.”

The assembled group shared stories of lives touched by transgender issues, striking alternate chords of empathy, hardship, compassion and harsh reality. Becker nodded, took notes, and asked questions about a community he admittedly is just beginning to learn about.

Becker’s proposed bill is unlikely to see the light of day; Gov. John Kasich has spoken against it, no other Ohio congressperson has yet endorsed it and the Department of Justice is waiting with a Title IX hammer if it does get anywhere. But I advocated that even the discussion at a legislative level lends a credibility that is dangerous to transgender people. I told Becker, after emphasizing the fact that there is zero correlation between transgender bathroom choice and sexual assault, “Your bill does not protect anyone who isn’t already in danger from predators, but it opens up an entire population of people to discovery and danger they work very hard to avoid.”

Since the meeting, Becker has told media he intends to continue working on his bill.

But that does not mean our attempts at advocacy failed.

It simply means we must continue speaking up for what we believe is right for our community, state and nation. We must not shy away from controversial issues, but we have a responsibility to be informed and educated on the issues we choose to advocate for. Giving and volunteering are crucial elements of philanthropy. But when you are touched by an issue that impacts your life, remember that using your voice and sharing your thoughts is also an important contribution to our community.

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2-1-1 speech touches hearts of legislators, touts veterans’ needs http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/2-1-1-speech-touches-hearts-of-legislators-touts-veterans-needs/ http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/2-1-1-speech-touches-hearts-of-legislators-touts-veterans-needs/#respond Tue, 17 May 2016 14:42:08 +0000 http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/?p=4745 Tim Grealis Headshot

On most days, 2-1-1 Navigation Specialist Tim Grealis is at his desk, dedicated to helping veterans and their families find, understand and access community resources. A United States Air Force Veteran, Grealis brings real-life experience to his job.

But in mid-April, Grealis reached a much larger audience. He delivered a speech in the Ohio State House Rotunda for Lobby Day, to bring awareness to veteran programs in Ohio. Some of those in attendance included Rep. Marlene Anielski, 6th District; Rep. Kent Smith, 8th District; Rep. Janine Boyd, 9th District; Rep. Stephanie Howse, 11th District; Rep. Nickie Antonio, 13th District and Rep. Nicholas Celebreeze, 15th District. From the Senate, Senator Mike Skindell, 23rd District, Senator Kenny Yuko, 25th District and Legislative Aide for Sen. Sandra Williams, 21st District attended.

“Our 2-1-1 started the Help 2 Veterans program on November 11, 2013,” Grealis noted in his speech. “Since that time, we have helped 23,000 Veterans in Cuyahoga County. There are approximately 82,000 Veterans in the County.”

He also shared his personal story:

“When I was 18 years old, I joined the Air Force. I signed up because I did not have the money for college, I was eager to learn new skills, and my dad and grandfather were both in the service. After training, I went to Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana and spent two years there.

When I was discharged from the Air Force, I got a great job — I was so thankful for the skills I learned from the military. I worked in the computer industry for 21 years until I was laid off in June of 2011. I spent 18 months looking for a job. Our family — I have a wife and three boys — had to drastically cut all of our expenses, including selling our car.

What I did not know at the time was that being an Air Force Veteran could open doors for me. I wish I had known about 2-1-1 and about the Veterans’ services available to me. I finally found out about 2-1-1 when talking with a friend of mine who worked there. 2-1-1 had an opening so I applied for the job.

Since I have started this position, I have made it my mission to help our veterans find programs to help with rent, food, utilities and job finding assistance. Those are the top four needs of our veterans.”

Grealis told the story of his interaction with Charles Farris Jr., an Air Force veteran who called 2-1-1 after spending a night in a doorframe in sub-zero weather. He credits Grealis and 2-1-1 with more than helping him find shelter and food. (Read the full story)

Tim Speaking

His speech concluded with a call to action for the legislators. “Right now our program only covers Cuyahoga County. Each time I talk with our partners in other counties, they tell me how much they wish the program would serve their area,” he said. “If we were able to expand the program to our entire 21-county service area, we would cover 26 percent of the veterans in Ohio (about 210,000 men and women). 2-1-1 could be the gateway to all community services for returning veterans and for their families.”

Grealis said he was overwhelmed by reaction to the speech.

Barbara A. Sykes, President & CEO Ohio United Way, said, “Tim’s presentation on 2-1-1 and the services provided to Veterans and their families were positively and overwhelmingly received. He spoke from the heart and made us all proud … standing ovation proud!”

Major General (retired) Deborah A. Ashenhurst and Speaker of the House Clifford Rosenburg greeted Grealis and thanked him for his service and speech, presenting him with their commemorative coins.

Now that some time has passed, Grealis said he has positive perspective on the day.

“It made me proud that I am making a difference to the Veterans Community,” he said. “I just wish I could do more.”

Watch how Tim and 2-1-1 make a difference everyday

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‘Elephant’ event convenes social services to discuss RNC impact http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/elephant-event-convenes-social-services-to-discuss-rnc-impact/ http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/elephant-event-convenes-social-services-to-discuss-rnc-impact/#respond Thu, 12 May 2016 18:11:08 +0000 http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/?p=4719 Hannah Lebovits HeadshotBy Hannah Lebovits, Manager, Knowledge Building, United Way of Greater Cleveland

“If you want to know the value of one month, ask the mother of the premature baby…if you want to know the value of one hour, ask the lovers waiting to meet.” — Marc Levy

I would add to Levy’s thoughts that if you want to know the value of a week, ask the many Cleveland residents who are gearing up for the Republican National Convention from July 18-21.

For some of us, a weeklong event downtown might mean a longer commute, an opportunity to work from home or a well-deserved vacation. However, for many Cuyahoga County residents and the nonprofits that work tirelessly to assist them, seven days of affected service delivery and fewer frontline workers during the RNC will bring great challenges.

United Way of Greater Cleveland does more than raise funds and disperse them; we are dedicated to working with our community partners to monitor, assess and respond to internal and external changes that present obstacles and opportunities for our sector. For months, the governmental, economic and medical centers in Cleveland have been gearing up for the RNC, but it seemed there were few forums addressing the needs of the social service sector during the RNC.

That’s why on May 4, United Way of Greater Cleveland convened more than 130 people from various fields to discuss how our sector can get ready for the RNC. The event, “The Elephant in the Room,” was co-hosted by the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University and the Center for Community Solutions, in an incredible partnership that combined expertise in research, higher education and nonprofit management.

The event began on the logistics side as county and city administrators advised attendees they don’t need as much information about the week as they think they might and that most of the information needed is already available. Speakers and panelists encouraged attendees to be proactive and begin preparing but to trust that the services they regularly rely on will be in place. After hearing about the potential risks the RNC might bring, a marketing and communications specialist highlighted the benefits of a broader audience and how crucial the week can be for agencies looking to promote their work.

The speaker drew a parallel to the lasting changes to Public Square; the RNC gives the incentive to create a more robust communications plan but the conversation should not end on July 21.

At the breakout session following the presentations, attendees sat in small groups to digest what they had heard and think of ways to collaborate. A few groups stayed after the event ended to discuss their plans and map out key players and next steps. United Way of Greater Cleveland thanks all of the participants and attendees who made the event a success. As Levy reminds us, time is relative to impact, and its value can only be determined by the person who sees the most potential in their timeframe. We hope those who attended The Elephant in the Room have a greater understanding of the potential the RNC is bringing to Greater Cleveland and its social service organizations.

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Inspire their next adventure through reading http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/inspire-their-next-adventure-through-reading/ http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/inspire-their-next-adventure-through-reading/#respond Tue, 10 May 2016 15:54:33 +0000 http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/?p=4693 Danielle Wright photo

By Danielle Wright, Engagement Center Associate, United Way of Greater Cleveland

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you will go.”
— Dr. Seuss

I’m a bit of an education nut. There are times I think I should have been an elementary school teacher, and other times I dream of creating programs that enhance our educational system. Education has always been very important in my family. I remember my brother’s first day of school I stood at the bus stop and cried because I wanted to go to school as well. I was inconsolable, not understanding why, at three years old, I was not allowed to go to school. 

I also have vivid childhood memories of reading to my parents and whoever else would come to our house. Whenever my parents had company, I would grab my Bible and other books and hop on someone’s lap and read to them. I recall the excitement of reading and the conversations that followed; conversations that sparked my imagination and took me to a land filled with plot twists and new endings to my favorite stories. Reading was a deeply integral part of my life. By second grade, I was reading at a ninth-grade level. I never thought much of my reading ability; I just loved to read.

It is easy to take for granted the things we have access to. A child who does not have access to books might not experience the beauty of getting lost in the plot or laughing hysterically at the story. In low-income neighborhoods there is only one book per every 300 children; in middle-income neighborhoods, there are 13 books per one child. The numbers are staggering, but with your help, we can truly ignite a child’s love for reading.

The United Way of Greater Cleveland Engagement Center is searching for Community Heroes to donate $5 to provide a book to a child as part of its Day of Action. Inspire Their Next Adventure is a Stuff the Bus with Books digital campaign with the goal of utilizing your donations to provide Cleveland-area school children with books to explore, treasure and share. Through your kind donation, you will inspire a child’s next great adventure and help prevent summer learning loss.

As time went on, my love for reading developed into a passion for creative writing, crafting poems and short stories in my free time. Reading and writing were therapeutic for me. If there was ever anything bothering me, I would grab a book, pen and paper and get lost in my own creativity. In junior high and high school, my passion helped me with critical thinking, research and analytical writing. I am grateful I had people in my life who encouraged me to read and be imaginative. Every child deserves the opportunity to dive into a good book or story and allow their imagination to take them to places they never knew existed. Unfortunately, not every child receives the tools they need. You can help to change that.

Become a Community Hero and inspire a child’s next adventure, please consider making a donation. Your name will appear in the book and forever be connected to changing a child’s life.

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United Way Learning Series: By the Numbers http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/united-way-learning-series-by-the-numbers/ http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/united-way-learning-series-by-the-numbers/#respond Mon, 09 May 2016 13:35:03 +0000 http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/?p=4668 Using Data to Tell Your Story

Data Training Images

Information and data are more accessible than at any time in human history. As such, nonprofits are asked to use their data to show measurable impact and make data-driven choices. But that abundance can be overwhelming and easily lose readers. On May 25, United Way of Greater Cleveland will facilitate an interactive workshop designed to provide your agency with tools to focus your data into effective and impactful storytelling.

When: Wednesday, May 25 from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m., Lunch will be provided.
Location: Vocational Guidance Services, 2239 E. 55 Street, Cleveland OH 44103
Featuring: Emily Campbell, Associate Director, Williamson Family Fellow for Applied Research, The Center for Community Solutions
Price: Free for partner agencies, $10 for nonprofit agencies (to be collected at the event)
RSVP: By Friday, May 20
For more information and to register for this event: Please contact Hannah Lebovits at hlebovits@unitedwaycleveland.org or 216-436-2245

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Celebrating Gifts – Daughter and Mother Grateful for Opportunity to Volunteer together at United Way http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/celebrating-gifts-daughter-and-mother-grateful-for-opportunity-to-volunteer-together-at-united-way/ http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/celebrating-gifts-daughter-and-mother-grateful-for-opportunity-to-volunteer-together-at-united-way/#respond Wed, 04 May 2016 14:12:21 +0000 http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/?p=4646 MothersDayBlog

This Mother’s Day, a mother and daughter are reflecting with gratitude on the opportunity to volunteer together. Both Kathleen and Heather Stoll have been volunteering for many years at United Way of Greater Cleveland. If you know Kathleen Stoll, this would not be a surprise. She has been a strong role model for community involvement over the past 60 years and has inevitably passed on the importance of volunteering to her daughter.

“Watching a mother who dedicated her time to serve community organizations addressing unmet needs, I saw firsthand how rewarding it is to be of service to the community,” Heather said. “My mother taught me that one person can make a valuable contribution and can make a difference in Cleveland. I always knew I wanted to follow her career path and dedication to the Cleveland community.” 

Kathleen is a licensed independent social worker. In her nearly 60 years of experience, she has worked in direct service to patients in the local state hospitals, spent ten years with the first Community Mental Health Board, and worked at University Hospitals for ten years. At UH, Kathleen worked in the planning office and provided extensive staff support for the development of a Master Facilities Plan. This experience led her to start her own consulting company. She is married to Myron Stoll and is the mother of three children — Vincent, Sarah and Heather — and has six grandchildren.

Her daughter, Heather, serves as vice president for external affairs for the Sisters of Charity Health System (SCHS). SCHS includes health and human service ministries in Cleveland and Canton, Ohio and South Carolina. In her role, she manages the implementation of communications and branding strategies to promote the organization’s mission as well as its active public policy and government affairs agenda. In addition, Heather provides oversight to Joseph’s Home, a transitional facility for homeless men who are recuperating from illness, and to Building Healthy Communities of Cleveland. She and her husband Tibor are raising a daughter, Lily.

Both women are volunteers for United Way of Greater Cleveland, serving on the Health Committee. They support United Way for its local work.

“United Way was founded by local philanthropists to enable all residents to participate in solving difficult problems facing vulnerable populations, and making a difference in the community,” Kathleen said. “United Way is now an important source of charitable contributions to local social institutions. United Way raises the funds, determines the investments and evaluates the results. This is an important role.”

“My mother and I were asked to volunteer at different times, by different UW staff, and for different reasons,” Heather said. “My mother was invited because of her extensive background in mental health services and her active involvement on the boards of many community services throughout the community. I was invited immediately following my graduation from CWRU’s Weatherhead School of Management and for my broader knowledge of health and human services. At the beginning, we were on separate investment committees.”

“Now, we are both on the same investment committee,” Kathleen said. “Working together enables us to continue to contribute to our community, building on each other’s strengths but also the strengths of our fellow committee members. Doing this with each other adds an extra dimension as we share so many common interests.”

Heather added, “My mother likes working with me because my ‘youthful perspective and professional skills are a good complement and supplement to retired professionals like herself.’ But I find working with my mother is part of an ongoing quest for education and learning from someone who has seen best practices work, who has seen many programs fail for a variety of reasons, and to know that you must have the tenacity to work through the positives and negatives of a program to make an impact. Volunteering is an opportunity for ongoing education.”

With Mothers Day approaching, Heather is reflecting on the impact her mom set through volunteering.

“The greatest gift afforded to me by volunteering with my mom, is to know my mom in a different light,” she said. “Growing up, you see your mom as the one who guides you through your own development, teaching you how to be a values-based person, how to capture all that you can from your educational experiences, and how to be the best person you can be. But I believe by volunteering with my mom, I get to know her as not just my mom, but as a competent professional in the health and human services sector. I get to hear her comments on various programs, how she views these programs and what pertinent questions she asks about the program goals and program outcomes. It places my mom and her beautiful strengths in a different light. I’m truly honored to have this opportunity to learn from her.”

Learn more United Way of Greater Cleveland’s volunteer opportunities

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Meet our new President and CEO August A. Napoli Jr. http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/meet-our-new-president-and-ceo-august-a-napoli-jr/ http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/meet-our-new-president-and-ceo-august-a-napoli-jr/#respond Tue, 03 May 2016 19:44:33 +0000 http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/?p=4637 August NapoliAugust A. Napoli Jr., was announced as the president and CEO of United Way of Greater Cleveland on May 3, 2016. He joins United Way after spending nearly six years as the deputy director and chief advancement officer of the Cleveland Museum of Art. He will begin his new position in June.

Napoli has thirty years of nonprofit executive experience in the Northeast Ohio. He led institutional advancement activities at several universities including Baldwin Wallace College and Cleveland State University. He also served as the first president and CEO of the Catholic Diocesan Foundation, which raised more than $12 million annually for Catholic education and charities.

In 2006, Mr. Napoli became the president and chief operating officer of the Summa Foundation. In this role, he was instrumental in expanding public and private sector support for the health system; leading the transformation of the Foundation as it changed its focus from one of stewardship to both grant seeking and grant making; and representing Summa in developing numerous community and regional collaborative efforts, such as the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron.

Prior to his position with Summa, Napoli was the vice chairman in the Division of Institutional Relations and Development at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation where he was responsible for planning and executing the campaign for the Cleveland Clinic Heart Center (now the Arnold and Sydell Miller Family Cardiovascular Institute), which raised over $300 million for the largest single-purpose medical facility in the world. In addition, he created the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland Foundation and served as its first president and CEO. Prior to that he served as the President and CEO of the Catholic Charities Corp. of the Diocese of Cleveland, and as the vice president for university relations and development and the executive director of the Foundation at Cleveland State University.

Napoli is a graduate of Franciscan University. He is currently affiliated with numerous professional and community organizations. He is immediate past president of AMDA (Art Museum Development Association) 2014-2015. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Cleveland Council on World Affairs; he serves as treasurer of the City Club of Cleveland Foundation Board of Directors; he is a member of the Board of Trustees of One Community as well as The Temple-Tifereth Israel.

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You Are What You Ate http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/you-are-what-you-ate/ http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/you-are-what-you-ate/#respond Thu, 28 Apr 2016 16:45:00 +0000 http://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/?p=4572 Nancy MendezBy Nancy Mendez, Director of Community Impact Operations, United Way of Greater Cleveland

Film critic Roger Ebert, in describing “Citizen Kane,” wrote, “Human happiness and pain are not found in big ideas but in the little victories or defeats of childhood.”

Many factors that keep adults in adverse situations (physical, mental, even financial) often stem from early childhood environmental conditions – victories and defeats beyond their control. Social service and philanthropic organizations concerned with breaking the cycle of poverty embrace that ideology, and in the area of food and nutrition, the scientific community is catching up.

New research published in Psychological Science shows “growing up poor promotes eating in the absence of hunger in adulthood, regardless of one’s wealth in adulthood,” according to psychological scientist Sarah Hill of Texas Christian University. “These findings are important because they suggest a person’s developmental history may play a key role in their relationship with food and weight management.”

As Jake Steinfeld, chairman of the National Foundation for Governor’s Fitness Councils, said in an April 27 opinion piece in The Plain Dealer, “Childhood obesity is a real problem. Not only is this preventable disease costing us billions of dollars in direct health care expenses annually, but children who are overweight will most likely become obese adults.”

Existing research links childhood poverty as a risk factor for obesity, but the details driving this relationship are still debated. As Hill states in her public report, “While a lack of access to healthy foods and safe places to play may help to explain the association, [we] wondered whether early experiences might become biologically embedded in ways that shape how individuals regulate energy needs throughout the lifespan.”

“This biological blueprint would help children survive in impoverished environments, leading them to seek out food whenever it is available, and would continue to drive their behavior as they aged, regardless of whether their access to food had improved.”

United Way of Greater Cleveland’s work stresses intervention in several areas of childhood, beyond survival necessities. The patterns of victories and defeats echo down the years in reading skills and educational success, financial literacy, dealing with trauma and family relationships. But Hill’s breakthrough in food quality and availability and obesity may be one the public can easily relate to, and act upon.

“We were surprised by the lasting impact that one’s childhood environment plays in guiding food intake in adulthood,” Hill said. “We were also surprised by the fact that one’s level of wealth in adulthood had almost no impact on patterns of food intake.”

In his Washington Post story on Hill’s findings, Roberto A. Ferdman wrote, “Increasingly, it seems the key to breaking the cycle of poverty might lie in understanding that the gap begins to grow at a very early age, cementing itself in ways that make it very difficult to untangle. And there are few things as stark as the difference between how poor and rich kids develop relationships with food.”

The often-quoted statistic that life expectancy in Cleveland’s Lyndhurst neighborhood is nearly 25 years longer than that of nearby Kinsman is a powerful example of this stark difference. Eight miles should not make the difference between a quarter-century of life. But the relative dearth of quality food access undoubtedly impacts this shameful statistic. United Way invests in Burten, Bell, Carr Development’s efforts to turn this around in the Kinsman area. BBCD offers such programs as a mobile market that delivers fresh produce, cooking classes for ages seven through 12, and nutrition and wellness programs to fight the food disparity the cycle of poverty spreads like cancerous sand in a growing desert.

There will still be questions and doubts. As stated in Hill’s public report, “The researchers caution that these findings do not establish a direct causal relationship between childhood poverty and eating in the absence of energy need. However, they do suggest that early environmental experiences may influence how individuals regulate their energy needs.”

“Our research suggests that people who grew up in relatively impoverished environments may have a harder time controlling food intake and managing their body weight than those who grew up in wealthier environments,” Hill said.

In 2015, United Way set its sights on giving more people access to healthy food. With donor and volunteer help, more than 35,000 individuals were served through our food programs; that equals more than a half-million healthy meals, in 2015 alone, more than double the amount anticipated.

Hill’s research brings an important topic to light. If we recognize the power of childhood’s victories and defeats, we can work harder and earlier to foster triumphs, and lessen the impact of the losses.

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