In the News

Shining a light on our Veterans, the sacrifices they have made

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are roughly 77,000 veterans living in Cuyahoga County, with nearly 200,000 across Northeast Ohio. This is a significant number of people who have sacrificed in so many ways to protect our freedom and way of life.

Adrianne at 211 Booth DOS-WEB

What many people do not realize is that many of our brave veterans come home facing immense challenges – from PTSD and chronic anxiety to struggles fitting into society and finding work. Even though there are many programs and services available to our veterans in need, many people are not aware they exist and how to best utilize them.

To bridge the gap between veterans’ issues and the solutions that are available, United Way of Greater Cleveland, in partnership with Cuyahoga Community College and the “Stokes: Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future” 50th anniversary commemoration, hosted its first Veteran’s Day of Service for veterans throughout Cuyahoga County.

The Day of Service offered veterans an opportunity to discover myriad resources available to them based on their individual needs. College students within public health-related programs from Cleveland State University, John Carroll University and NEOMED volunteered, to help screen and identify needs and direct veterans to programs and services available to them.

Once the intake screening process concluded, attendees were personally escorted to each of the 28 booths offering services specific to their predetermined needs. The many participating agencies and organizations provided services ranging from basic needs (housing, food, shelter, ID cards) to VA benefits, job placement and education programs, among many others.

“It was an awesome experience to be able to support our veterans in need,” said United Way 2-1-1 Veteran’s Line Coordinator Tim Grealis, also a veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force. “To be able to help my fellow armed service members, especially the ones who are really struggling, is a powerful and gratifying experience. I’m looking forward to next year’s event and helping even more of my fellow vets.”

Bridging the gap between health care and social services

Poverty rates in Greater Cleveland have been on the rise. According to a community assessment executed by United Way of Greater Cleveland, in partnership with Case Western Reserve and The Center for Community Solutions, “About 78 percent of the county’s residents living at 200 percent or less of the Federal poverty level reside in Cleveland or the inner-ring suburbs.”

These staggering statistics are growing and affecting people in our community in many ways, particularly those who receive Medicare and Medicaid. Cleveland with a poverty rate of 36 percent, East Cleveland at 42 percent and Warrensville Heights at 19 percent have 209,000 residents who are Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.

Poverty is not just low-income individuals and families. It is those in need of health care and basic needs support. In many cases, there is a disconnect between health care and social services, making it challenging for folks on Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries to identify holistic solutions that best work for them, their families and caregivers.

Addressing the need

As a result of this gap in services, United Way applied for a grant through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to establish the CMS Accountable Health Communities (AHC) Model in 2016. With the support of four clinical partners – Cleveland Clinic for primary care and emergency health service, MetroHealth for primary care, emergency health and labor and delivery service, St. Vincent Charity Medical Center for behavioral health service and Care Alliance Health Center for primary care, United Way was able to attain a multi-million dollar grant yesterday to implement the model.

“Creating an AHC in Greater Cleveland will allow our health system to build a bridge and holistically assess a patient’s wellbeing and refer them to proper health care and social service agencies to address basic needs such as housing instability and food insecurity,” said United Way President and CEO August Napoli.

Next steps

Over a five-year period, the grant will be used to embed United Way 2-1-1 community resource navigation specialists into seven Cleveland Clinic, MetroHealth, St. Vincent Charity Medical Center and Care Alliance Health Center sites. The grant will create and support community partnerships for technology, workflow design, evaluation and planning. Additional dollars will be utilized for necessary equipment and supplies.

An AHC is a CMS model to address the health-related social needs of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries through assessment, referral and community navigation services, leading to improved care delivery, enhanced quality of care, reduction of the total cost of care and inpatient and outpatient health care utilization.

Patients receiving health care at Cleveland Clinic South Pointe Hospital; MetroHealth’s Main Campus, Broadway Health Center, Old Brooklyn Health Center and Thomas F. McCafferty Health Center; St. Vincent Charity Medical Center and Care Alliance Health Center’s Central Neighborhood Clinic will be screened for health-related social and basic needs such as housing instability and quality, food insecurity, utility needs, violence and transportation barriers. The screening will be followed by a community resource assessment and referral from United Way 2-1-1 community resource navigation specialists.

“United Way 2-1-1 is a free and confidential 24/7 help center with a robust database of more than 4,000 organizations, providing nearly 25,000 services in our area,” said United Way 2-1-1 Director Diane Gatto. “Our specialists will create a customized plan to address patients’ health-related social needs and then follow up to ensure the patient is able to implement the plan.”

The grant also allows for a one-year planning and training period to finalize the intervention, organize and structure the advisory committee as well as hire and train staff, beginning May 2017. Starting in May 2018 through May 2021, the AHC will aim to serve 75,000 or more Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries per year.

Note: Read our press release for more information on the CMS grant award.

My time serving our country in the face of war: The journey of a Vietnam veteran turned newsman

Leon Bibb HeadshotBy Leon Bibb, anchor and reporter at WEWS-TV, News Channel 5

It was the mid-1960s, resting in the midst of an ongoing war in North Vietnam as well as in South Vietnam, and tempers in the United States swayed like a wispy weeping willow. This tree had no secrets to tell though. All of us knew of the fight because the war had a total of 3 million Americans involved in it over the period of a decade. In the war in Vietnam, 59,000 Americans were killed.

This seemingly endless war most certainly took its toll on so many in the U.S. and all over the world. It was our war; their war; a war that put us side-by-side with our Southern Vietnamese allies in a time of great hope, as well as great despair.

I was in my youth at the time; not quite 22 years old. My life was ahead of me. I had dreams of furthering my ambitions as a reporter in our great city of Cleveland. After graduating from Bowling Green State University in 1966 with a degree in journalism, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take on a full-time job at the Plain Dealer. I can tell you this was a proud moment in my life. To be a staff writer, gathering and reporting the news of our region, to the great people of our region, was to put it mildly an awesome responsibility.

We all watched as the war continued to rage on. It took so many lives that it was a paralyzing force to watch. Everyone was hoping the war would just end with honor,  but it kept going on and on. At some point the war in Vietnam  had to reach out and touch me I thought.

My call had finally come

As it would stand, it did do just that. One afternoon while working on a story at the PD, my mother called with a distinctive concern in her voice. I had received a letter from the Selective Service. Since I was living at home with my parents at the time, the letter to came to our Cleveland address. At the time, the letter came addressed to me, my mother theorized what it was because it was from the Selective Service – the draft. Holding the envelope, my mother called me at work, insisting that she open it for me. Knowing what it would say, I replied to her that “I’ll take a look at it
when I come home mother.”Selective Service System Seal

As suspected, she resisted my request to leave the letter for me to open it later that day. My mother broke the seal and read what the government had sent me.  As I remained on the phone waiting patiently, her nervousness practically palpable, she opened the letter and began to cry. “They’re drafting you… they want you… you gotta go [to basic training] next month!”

The news was, of course, troubling for me, yet expected.  During those times, I inwardly understood the draft would be almost a certainty. When I came home that evening, we sat down and simply talked about the letter and what was to come. There was some solace in the words my father shared that evening though. As a World War II veteran, draft shortly after Pearl Harbor, he imparted in me many of the most basic, yet memorable qualities and traits I should take with me on my military journey.

Although simple advice, it was relevant and resonated with me to this very day. Dad said “You’re gonna meet men of all walks of life. You’re gonna meet men who didn’t finish high school. You’re gonna be with men who graduated college… southern white boys and northern black boys… all kinds of people, but what’s important is to get along with people and do what the officers order you to do and learn to do your job.”

The support extended beyond my father. All of my uncles were in the military, as well as my soon to be father-in-law, his brothers, and other men in his life. They left a rich legacy of military honor and duty throughout the two families.

So there was nothing unusual about being drafted – it was just part of our lifestyle. If you talk to anyone from that time [a World War II veteran], just about every man of age was in the military. That knowledge was part of my growing up. That was the way it was.

Of course, I looked inward and reflected on this new reality that was sitting right in front of me. But, I kept telling myself “If the government called, it was my obligation to go. Who should go if I don’t go? So I answered the call. It was my duty.”

My time defending our nation

The day I was drafted, my father drove me down to the Standard Building in downtown Cleveland on Nov. 8 at 5:30 a.m. to report for duty. This was the place every area person who was drafted, or who enlisted, went to sign in. That vast pool of men who were in the military and served in the war that yielded such an uncertain future was astonishing. But I, and all of those other patriotic men, forged on to answer the call from our nation.

Within three months of receiving an earlier letter from Selective Service, I had gone through the physical exam, testing, and induction. I was basic trained and deployed. It was a whirlwind, all meant to prepare me to protect our country. Along the way, I would learn to do my job and survive against the enemy.

Only a few hours after my induction, when my feet hit Fort Benning, Georgia, where I underwent basic training, I thought to myself, “I am putting away civilian things now… I am now a soldier and that is what I do for a living.” The key was learning to do the things required of me so I could learn to defend myself, my country and have the best possible chance of coming home.

Leon Bibb on Patrol in VietnamAfter eight weeks of basic training, came eight more weeks of advance individual training in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. After that, I was assigned to a unit in Fort Sill. For the next few months, I served in an artillery unit until orders came for me to go to Vietnam.

In Vietnam, the initial plan was for me to be a truck driver within a convoy for the Fourth Infantry Division. However, I never made it to that job. I had mentioned to someone that I had a degree in journalism. To my surprise, I was something of a commodity. With that newfound knowledge, they assigned me to be a public information officer at a firebase in the middle of the jungle in a tent that had PIO on it.

Working for a full Colonel, I handled clerical work, writing, reports and combat photography. When I was not writing or taking photos, I still had to go out on patrol. I spent nights in the dark jungle, searching for the enemy or guarding the perimeter, watching for the enemy in the event of an ambush.

My two years went on in a similar fashion. I did my job, kept my head down and kept open lines of communication. Those were the traits my dad instilled in me during our chats leading up to my deployment and they served me greatly during those years of unease, fear, challenge and hope. That mentality allowed me to survive and to perform courageous acts beyond what I thought I could do. I still think about those words of wisdom to this day with fond memories and a full heart.

My return home, a lifetime of knowledge

When I returned home after being discharged in the fall of 1968, I was changed in many ways for the better. Being in the war and having those intense experiences made me more aware of the importance of life and how precious it truly is. I’d seen death in the reflection of men’s eyes and souls.

One of those reflections was personal. It was the death of a friend, who would now be my age were he to have survived. To know his life ended at the mere age of 21 is a powerful, heartbreaking and life-changing event that shed a light on the beauty of life.

During the past several years, I have been in touch with his parents and his sister. It was a bittersweet moment to reach them and begin communications.

It made me realize the importance of our military and that when we send our men and women, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters to war, some are not going to come back. This is the harsh reality. This is the reason we must make sure that whatever conflict the U.S. gets involved in is worth getting involved in for the betterment of our country and the world.

My resolve for supporting our veterans

I can say with certainty that we must support the troops we send into the field of battle every day and in every way. We must not just support them while active on the stages of war, but encourage and support them more vigorously when they return home. They are only following the orders of a nation. When they went and fired their weapons, their fingers were not the only fingers on the trigger. In a way, all of America’s fingers were on that trigger. It is our responsibility to welcome them back into society with open arms, open hearts, and open minds.

When they come home bruised, battered, troubled and emotionally devastated, we have to be there for them. We have to find ways to increase the support of our veterans, especially in these chaotic times, with programs and services, some of which United Way supports.

Fitting back into society is an even greater challenge now. Our veterans need emotional, physical, employment, and financial support, among a myriad of other needs. We must embrace them, hold them closely and shield them from harm in our attempts to help them find their ways. United Way serves in such a fashion to help those veterans in critical need.

Help2Veterans LogoIt all comes down to love. It is the love of fellow man, of humanity, and of our veterans. That is what United Way is all about – providing the love, care, resources and support so many veterans are desperately seeking. We can be their beacons of hope. We can and must treat U.S. military veterans with respect and help those who do not have voices find theirs. United Way can be one of the voices to help veterans find what they need and claim it. Let us be the love and the hope for our veterans.

About Leon Bibb

Leon Bibb Headshot Raised in Cleveland’s Glenville area, and a graduate of Glenville High School on the city’s east side, Bibb’s broadcasting career began during his student days at Bowling Green State University (BGSU). Following graduation, he worked as a newspaper reporter at The Plain Dealer.

Prior to joining WEWS-TV in 1995, Bibb worked at WKYC-TV as the weekend News Anchor and News Reporter starting in 1979. In 1986, he became Primary News Anchor for the Monday through Friday newscasts there.

He has narrated and hosted many shows at WEWS-TV, including “My Ohio with Leon Bibb,” “Leon Bibb’s Perspective,” “Kaleidoscope,” and a series called “Our Hometown.” Bibb has interviewed numerous political leaders and notable figures, including President Barack Obama, President George H. W. Bush, Neil Armstrong, and James Earl Ray, the convicted assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Special Note: As a result of his exemplary service in the Vietnam War, he was awarded a Bronze Star.

*Photos courtesy of Leon Bibb and Selective Service Publications

 

Potential cuts to Medicaid create concern for our citizens, region

Ben MiladinAdvocates for a healthier Ohio and America have grown increasingly worried over the proposed American Health Care Act (AHCA), a plan by the current administration to overhaul much of the American healthcare system. Particularly troubling are enormous cuts to Medicaid, which would roll back a large increase in enrollees, which the previous administration and Medicaid advocate Governor John Kasich brought to Ohio a few years ago.

Health, job implications of Medicaid

Medicaid is a program that is funded by the federal government and administered by the states. The consequences for millions of American’s hopes and dreams could be devastating without federal funding. Medicaid has proven to be one of the most successful investments in the American dream that the country has ever seen. A recent in-depth survey conducted by the State of Ohio helps demonstrate Medicaid’s impact. The state surveyed more than 7,500 Medicaid recipients and found impressive results.

An overwhelming majority of respondents (roughly 75 percent) said that having secure health insurance made it much easier for them to look for and obtain work. This is important to those who worry that Medicaid will lead people to be less incentivized to work.

This should not be surprising given there were significant improvements in health among those who receive Medicaid. According to the survey, direct measurements of patient blood pressure, obesity, and cholesterol, as well as self-reports about mental health was greatly improved. This data showcases an important point that in order to thrive, and move up the economic ladder, having a solid foundation of health is critical.

Changes to Medicaid

However, despite this success, House leadership and the current administration are advocating for a bill that would eliminate vast amounts of funding for Medicaid.

Ohio alone is expected to lose between $19-26 billion dollars from 2019 to 2025, with total losses across the country in excess of $800 billion dollars. With funding reductions such as these, there is simply no way that Medicaid can avoid cutting off millions of people from the benefits of the program.

Approximately 30 percent of our Cuyahoga County friends and neighbors are currently receiving assistance from Medicaid, and this will almost certainly be lower should the AHCA pass. Job losses and investments in new and innovative practices in the region at our local healthcare institutions could also be considerable.

The United Way position

United Way of Greater Cleveland works with many agencies that use the Medicaid program to help people live healthier, more productive lives every single day. Our funding to them combines with Medicaid funding to create new opportunities for health and success for people struggling with disabilities, mental health issues, addictions, layoffs and other challenges.

With cuts to Medicaid, such as those proposed, our community will be less able to help our own people thrive. For this reason, United Way of Greater Cleveland will work with our elected representatives to tell the stories of those negatively affected by potential Medicaid cuts and to advocate for the continued strength of the Medicaid program.

Annual Meeting shares successes, renewed focus on giving

Augie Napoli

United Way of Greater Cleveland closed the 2016-2017 campaign with an annual meeting today at the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland with approximately 1,100 donors, volunteers and supporters in attendance. The event consisted of a packed agenda of board business, storytelling, entertainment, awards and announcements regarding United Way’s organizational realignment, among many others.

Augie Napoli, president & CEO of United Way of Greater Cleveland, began the meeting with a brief message. “Welcome and thank you for attending our first annual meeting at the Convention Center. This is just one of several changes you can expect from your United Way in the near future. What will not change is our 104-year commitment to bring Greater Clevelanders together to give and to volunteer for those in need… right here in our hometown… today and tomorrow,” he said.

For the first time, there was a reenacted 2-1-1 call played during the conclusion of lunch to change the tenor of the meeting and provide a deeper insight into the interaction between a 2-1-1 navigation specialist and a person in need of critical services. This four-minute reenactment was actually a 31-minute call taken in February.

Then Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish addressed the crowd, recognizing United Way’s role in the community.

“Together, we recognize the importance of accessible health care, we’re committed to finding solutions to stop the opiate epidemic that is killing people in our community every day and we’re helping individuals prepare for and keep meaningful and rewarding jobs, which is the only path to lifelong sustainability,” Budish said. “The human services that United Way and the county support together will make a difference in the next year and for years to come.”

Distinguished Gentlemen

As Budish exited the stage, the Distinguished Gentlemen of the Spoken Word, males ages eight to 18, came out to a perform powerful movement poetry to the annual meeting theme of “Together, We’re Greater.”

United Way’s chairman of the board, Marc Byrnes, chairman of Oswald Companies, updated the audience on recent business with the board of directors, the on-boarding of Napoli to the organization, a renewed focus on principal giving, furthering awareness of United Way 2-1-1 and much more.

“Together, we stand tall… we stand proud as we have helped change thousands of lives. And, our deepest gratitude goes out to all of you, today and always,” Byrnes said. “We [United Way] are the central place where donors could give and know their dollars were being invested wisely to care for those in need. I promise you … that continues to be true, today, through the judicious efforts of our tremendous volunteers. Volunteers are the very essence of our United Way; and, we are a formidable army.”

After Byrnes walked off the stage, a new video with custom musical Anthem was revealed, created to encapsulate the emotions of the “Together, We’re Greater” tagline and give the audience a glimpse into the impactful work United Way does to empower its partner agencies to provide critical services to those in need in our region.

Napoli returned to the stage and referenced several data outcomes that drew applause from the crowd, including:

  • Nearly 500 students are reading at, or progressed toward, reading at grade level with the help of United Way programs you helped fund.
  • More than 18,000 people received food assistance through United Way funded programs.
  • More than $3 million for prescription and medical supplies was leveraged through use of United Way dollars.

“I wish I could tell you our work is complete,” Napoli added. “But as long as one child is hungry, one family is without shelter for the night, one senior cannot get that needed prescription, we must persist.”

Then Heidi Gartland, University Hospital’s vice president of government and community relations and John MacIntosh, KPMG’s managing partner came out and revealed that more than 70,000 donors and 1,200 companies and organizations through the workplace campaign contributed $40,274,176 to help more than 400,000 people in Greater Cleveland succeed in school, secure basic food and housing needs, attain financial stability and achieve good health via 128 local health and human service programs.

“One thing Heidi and I learned throughout this campaign is it is indeed an army of volunteers and donors, working, influencing, and giving to make this happen,” MacIntosh mentioned. “We wish we could somehow reach every single donor, from those who gave $1 to those who gave $1 million, and shake their hands and thank them personally.”

Heidi added, “We’ve had a remarkable year … with the help of the Campaign Cabinet, with the help of hundreds of fundraising volunteers and over a thousand Employee Campaign Managers, with the help of a talented and devoted United Way staff, and with the help of 70,000 people who give to help improve Greater Cleveland.”

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As Heidi and John exited the stage, the 2017-2018 Campaign Co-Chairs, Chair and CEO of KeyCorp, Beth Mooney and Partner at Jones Day, Chris Kelly, came on stage. They discussed the challenges ahead and their collective passion and desire to tackle them.

“We expect to build on the work of those who have come before us, and to position the campaign for continued future success,” Mooney said.

Kelly expanded on that by saying, “I just want to emphasize: we have a real opportunity here to do the right thing. Making sure that our neighbors in need get help. As Beth said, ‘it’s the right thing to do’. Period…”

Mooney and Kelly asked the audience to take the pledge coin provided to them at their tables and make a commitment to be a hero, because “each one of us can put our super powers to work in our community,” they said in tandem.

Napoli came back on stage to present his keynote to the audience. He discussed the rich history of philanthropy in Cleveland, the “City of Goodwill” according to a 1913 New York Times article and how the realignment of United Way’s philanthropic business model will most certainly be the realization of what the New York Times predicted more than 100 years ago.

As Napoli was concluding his speech, attendees were surprised when the musical Anthem, “Stand Together” faded in and came into full force being accompanied by more than 100 youth singers from the Cleveland School of the Arts’ R. Nathaniel Dett Concert Choir. Their rendition brought the audience to their feet, as they joined in to sing with the choir.

United Way Annual Meeting to highlight changes, renewed vision

anapoliBy Augie Napoli, President and CEO, United Way of Greater Cleveland

We’ve seen a year of sweeping changes occur, with more certainly to come. It’s only fitting that United Way start unveiling its own changes. There are several areas that this 104-year old organization will be focusing on, which include renewing its mission, vision and scope of work for the benefit of the communities it serves.

United Way’s Annual Meeting is Friday, March 10, at the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland. Board Chair Marc Byrnes and I will use this opportunity to share our renewed and re-envisioned strategic areas that will take United Way to the next level.

With an anticipated crowd of nearly 1,100 community members and United Way supporters, we will discuss the successes we have achieved during 2016 and the aggressive plans we have for the coming year. Some of these successes include how your support has been a critical component in ensuring our partner agencies have the tools needed to provide critical services to those in need.

Whether your support came from a monetary gift, volunteering or advocating face-to-face or through your own social media channels, we applaud you for all you do.

Campaign Co-Chairs Heidi Gartland, vice president of government and community relations at University Hospitals; and John MacIntosh, managing partner at KPMG, will report on the results of the 2016-17 campaign and pass the baton to the Co-Chairs of the upcoming campaign.

We’ll discuss new and innovative initiatives. We will also acknowledge our strong partnerships with Geauga and Medina counties; and we expect to be graced by several local leaders, including remarks by Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish.

We look forward to an exciting event, highlighted by The Distinguished Gentlemen of the Spoken Word, a group of young men ages eight to 18, who will perform movement poetry to the annual meeting theme of “Together, We’re Greater.”

As I reflect upon my first nine months with United Way, I am humbled and honored to lead such a respected organization. I am excited to take on the challenges, and expand on the current opportunities, with an open mind and open heart to be a catalyst in successfully taking United Way into the future as a leader and model of philanthropy.

This year’s annual meeting will be one to remember! Because together, we are greater!

United Way strives to provide access to healthy foods

Andrew KatusinAs the director of basic needs at United Way of Greater Cleveland, I lead the organization’s investments in food security, which means ensuring community members have access to healthy food for themselves and their families. I have visited many food pantries throughout Cuyahoga County. When you walk in, you quickly see how many young parents and their children, individuals with special needs and even our community’s senior citizens access the pantry to get the food they need. For thousands of other Clevelanders, their access to food is changing as two of the four Cleveland Giant Eagle grocery stores close.

A recent food pantry visit made me realize I take my own trips to the grocery store for granted. I pulled into the parking lot of what looked like an abandoned building which once housed a corner store and a laundromat. This building was now a food pantry and the only place in the area to get fresh food.

While there, I witnessed an older couple loading up their cart. I learned the couple was married for approximately 50 years and were likely in their 80s. The couple doesn’t have any immediate family in the area and they live a mile away from the pantry. Bi-weekly, the elderly couple walks a mile to get their groceries. That day the couple trekked the distance in the snow and slush gifted by a Cleveland winter. They did it because they had to – because they lived in a food desert.
healthyfood

A food desert, defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is an area lacking access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk and other foods recommended for a healthy diet. Nationally these areas, according to the USDA, have a 42 percent lower median household income than nonfood desert neighborhoods and consistently see higher rates of poverty. However, food deserts have an abundance of corner stores specializing in snacks, processed frozen food, alcohol and cigarettes. Grocery stores are unable to generate enough revenue and keep business in food deserts and therefore do not provide residents the ability to get proper nutrition.

As more grocery stores are forced to close, one retailer has become a staple in Cleveland. Dave’s Markets continue to operate 14 grocery stores in Greater Cleveland increasing access in several neighborhoods, some of which are low income. Even with Dave’s dedication, many Cleveland residents lack access to fresh food due to barriers such as transportation. Convenient access to healthy and fresh food is critical and why United Way continues to invest basic needs.

United Way facilitates county investments to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank and The Hunger Network that operate area food pantries. In addition, we invest in 11 community programs striving to enhance people’s ability to access and eat nutritious food and reduce the influence food deserts have.

As a community member, get educated about the issue, research what is going on and learn how your community is responding. Take time to volunteer or donate to local organizations providing healthy food to those who need it. And when you hear about legislation impacting available funding for programs, speak up! It is amazing the power a quick call to your local legislator can have. If you’re not sure how to help, send us a note. The bottom line: it is our obligation to ensure food desserts don’t force any individual, family or senior citizen to go hungry due to lack of access.

EITC lifts working-poor, boosts local economies

By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer

Tell congress to expand the earned income tax credit for American workers

United Way of Greater Cleveland, alongside others in an initiative sparked by United Way Worldwide, is advocating for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) expansion in this year’s Congressional tax reform debate.

In a letter to the editor published in The Plain Dealer, United Way President and CEO August Napoli applauded Sen. Sherrod Brown’s support to expand EITC to include childless workers and taxpayers ages 21-24.

In place since 1975, the federal EITC was made permanent last year, prompting organizations like United Way to lobby for its expansion. Currently, the federal EITC provides a refundable tax credit dependent on recipients’ income, marital status and number of children. The working poor with multiple children benefit the most. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the average EITC refund for families with children for 2015 was $3,186 — effectively boosting wages by $265 a month.

“It’s a proven tool to reduce poverty and for keeping people out of poverty. For working families who benefit from EITC, studies show it helps make ends meet to buy necessities like food and gas, pay a medical bill or make car repairs.”

EITC income eligibility starts between $39,300 and $53,500 depending on the filer’s marital status and number of dependent children. Working poor with no children, whose income is below $14,900 alone or $20,400 for a married couple can receive a very small credit if over the age of 24. The tax credit phases in as a filer’s earnings move toward a maximum value, incentivizing people to leave welfare and for low-wage workers to increase their work hours, according to CBPP.

Research by Brookings Institute shows EITC has the power to lift families above the poverty line. From 2011 to 2013, Brookings estimates EITC kept 272,000 Ohioans out of poverty, more than 150,000 of those children.

Cuyahoga EITC Coalition, organized by Enterprise Community Partners, manages Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) services, another service for working poor made possible through EITC. VITA helps low-income households file their federal and state income taxes for free, saving EITC recipients from predatory or untrained tax preparation services that can eat into families’ refunds. United Way 2-1-1 schedules all VITA appointments for Cuyahoga County.

“If it was expanded for those people without children and 21-24-year-olds, it could help another 502,000 taxpayers in Ohio,” Feleppelle said. “This really benefits low-income and low-wage workers, so it will expand the help to that other half.”

Housing First continues to reduce chronic homelessness in Cleveland

By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer

Homelessness

As cold weather creeps in, the issue of homelessness in Cuyahoga County becomes more visible — groups volunteering at soup kitchens for holiday dinners, schools and other organizations collecting warm clothing — but it is not a seasonal problem throughout the city.

While specific numbers are hard to come by, given the transient nature of the population, an estimated 8,000 single adults and 500 families are homeless in Cuyahoga County in a given year, according to Eric Morse, chief operating officer at FrontLine Services.

Frontline, which provides crisis services and outreach programs, provides the intake for every shelter and housing option for the homeless in Cleveland, including 2100 Lakeside and Norma Herr Women’s Shelter.

“We in some way touch every person experiencing homelessness in the city of Cleveland,” he said.

He said on a given night there are 1,000 homeless, mostly single adults. Because Cleveland doesn’t turn away those in need of shelter, many crisis housing options are often at or over capacity.

“The citizens of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County are some of the most compassionate people in the country,” Morse said. “They elect people who make these really compassionate decisions [about the homeless]. We have world-class providers dedicated to serving whoever is in need.”

It is estimated of the county’s homeless, 20 percent are chronically homeless. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, chronically homeless are those who have a disabling condition and have been continuously homeless for a year or more or those with a disabling condition who have had four or more episodes of homelessness in the past three years.

And while the chronically homeless make up a fraction of the larger population, they take up the most resources, including emergency shelters, medical and justice system costs.

Housing first, treatment second

In an effort to house the long-time transient, Enterprise Community Partners, alongside more than 40 other organizations, signed on to the Housing First initiative 15 years ago. Funded in part by United Way of Greater Cleveland, it opened its first building in 2006 and today operates 11 different residencies with 650 unit, as well as 115 scattered private rental vouchers for chronically homeless young adults and families.

Jenny Eppich, senior program director for Housing First, emphasizes the partnerships it took to bring the model to Cleveland. Alongside cities like New Orleans, Minneapolis and Chicago, the model provides permanent supportive housing — economically feasible units with on-site social services like caseworkers and mental health services — to chronically homeless individuals.

What makes Housing First different is it does not require residents to be sober, looking for work to make use of its on-site services to stay in their apartments. It is not transitional, and while the average stay is approximately 18 months, according to Morse, clients can live there as long as they want.

“It’s not transitional, it’s not shelter, its regular apartments,” Eppich said. “For a lot of the chronically homeless, many of them have concurrent mental health issues, drug and alcohol, chronic health conditions. If we were to say you have to be clean and sober with a job and then we’ll give you a key — that does not work for these folks. Instead, we meet them where they’re at and invite them into housing.”

With a waitlist of approximately 100 people, Morse said, FrontLine transitions five to 10 into Housing First each month. The individuals who move into Housing First are the most at-risk, Eppich said, often suffering from untreated or undiagnosed medical conditions.

“Living on the streets and in shelters is hard,” she said. “Many of them [live] without the medications they need, they haven’t been receiving health care. Somebody who is chronically homeless has a much reduced life expectancy — 26 year less.”

In an effort to close the gap, Enterprise partnered with Care Alliance and FrontLine to provide an on-site mobile clinic serving needs of the rapidly aging chronically homeless population. Funded in part by United Way of Greater Cleveland, the mobile clinic serves Housing First residents and those still on the streets to treat immediate needs and provide tools for disease management.

Since its induction, Housing First has reduced the chronically homeless population by 77 percent in Cuyahoga County, Eppich said. Less than one percent returns to homelessness, with the majority moving on to continued housing stability either with Housing First or within other housing options throughout Greater Cleveland.

Providing support, building a home

During the winter, Morse said, there is often an increase in single men in need of housing, while the number of women in need remains steady and the number of families in need declines. For those in shelters or living on the streets, they often need winter clothing and are especially vulnerable to frostbite and other medical complications stemming from chronic diseases — such as heart conditions, diabetes and mental illness.

FrontLine Services and Housing First are always in need of monetary and physical donations to help those in need.

Frontline Services accepts donations through its website or through allocation via United Way of Greater Cleveland. It also partners with the Salvation Army and Goodwill to help provide clients with smaller items such as cookware and with the Cleveland Furniture Bank for larger pieces like beds, couches, tables and dressers.

To help its residents offset the cost of above items, Enterprise recently set up a crowd rise campaign, which goes directly to fulfilling clients’ needs.

“We’re getting close to ending chronic homelessness,” Eppich said. “We don’t have an exact number today, but we’re reassessing the need and the number of units and feel our community is close to having enough units to meet the needs on an ongoing basis.”

Staff Profile: New content director hopes to strengthen marketing, social media for United Way Cleveland

Editor’s Note: While we focus on our work in the community and rarely shine a spotlight on ourselves, this series is designed to put faces and names to the great and challenging work United Way does every day.


Ralph DavilaFinishing up his first month at United Way of Greater Cleveland, Ralph J. Davila, APR, director of news and community content, found himself thrown into the whirl of planning for the organization’s annual meeting and report, speech writing and campaign building. With a background in freelance, corporate, nonprofit and agency work in marketing and promotional communication, he now will apply his skills to United Way’s marketing department.

Finding a place, creating a department

After graduating from Kent State University, Davila worked for several boutique advertising and creative agencies building their infrastructure to offer holistic public relations services. With experience in communications, marketing, social media and advertising, he says he has always been in directorate positions, often creating departments from scratch.

Shifting between agencies, he eventually moved on to nonprofits, taking a position at the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where he helped ease the organization through a brand redesign. The Conservancy connects Northeast Ohio residents to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park through public outreach, events and classes. It is also responsible for the preservation of the park.

“It was exciting to be their first director of PR and marketing,” he says. “They did a rebranding and needed assistance bringing the rebrand to fruition. I was brought on to drive the rebranding effort and then set up the infrastructure for all of their communications.”

He says he enjoyed the excitement at the Conservancy, working directly with the CEO to set up the organization’s social media and communications.

From there, he moved on to EY, a global accounting firm formerly known as Ernst & Young. Switching gears, he helped establish and gave workshops on internal communication tools. For the employees at EY he promoted top-down use of “Yammer,” a tool designed for organizations with more than 10,000 employees.

“My role there was very, very different,” he says. “My role was to help deploy the tool but secondarily to work with executives to overcome any of their fears of using a tool like this.”

Getting back to his roots, he freelanced in PR, social media and marketing for many of clients before eventually moving back into the nonprofit world.

Resonating with a community

“I looked back at my career and it came to me that nonprofits resonated the most in terms of my life experiences,” he says.

While he knew he wanted to work in nonprofits again, he related to United Way’s work on a personal level.

“One of the reasons I especially wanted to be here was because I lived a life very similar to a lot of the folks who use the services the agencies provide through United Way support,” he says. “So I can really understand and relate to the struggles a lot of the people go through in a lot of ways.”

Now, he is picking up speech writing, annual meeting tasks and almost anything else that needs written at United Way of Greater Cleveland. Interested in further integrating and promoting posts on multiple platforms, he says he hopes to create a framework over time to maximize communication efficiency.

Outside work, Davila enjoys riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle. He says he travels with it often, including rides through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

An avid record collector, he has more than 600 albums, the majority rock ‘n’ roll and funk, he says — thrifting his way to some great finds, such as an original Jimi Hendrix album still in its plastic. A musician himself, he plays drums when he can.

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