In the News

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.

UAW and Community Housing Solutions partner to build ramps, repair houses

By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer

Two guys working on a front porch of a house

Roger Carney, CPA and controller at Community Housing Solutions (CHS), gives Greater Cleveland residents the tools and resources needed to keep and repair their homes.

Carney deals with everything from installing hot water tanks to foreclosure counseling. Serving low-income homeowners — the majority minority and elderly — the needs Carney fills are desperate.

“I’m not revitalizing neighborhoods, I’m trying to keep people alive,” he said. “So when a senior calls on a winter morning and says ‘I don’t have any heat and I’m going to die tonight if you don’t help me,’ I want to react to that. Those are the kind of things we do and they truly are big deals.”

But, with a finite budget from the county, city and state, he admits there are needs he can’t always meet. “I can do anything, I just can’t do everything,” Carney said.

One of those needs was Orel Parsons’ for a handicap ramp. A double amputee due to diabetes, Parsons lives alone and was unable to maneuver himself down porch steps. A ramp would cost thousands, Carney said, and was more than he had to spend on a single house.

But, through a recent partnership with United Autoworkers (UAW) Local 1250, Carney was able to meet Parsons’ need. All Carney had to pay for were the materials, UAW members provided the labor free of charge – a quote Carney’s other contractors couldn’t beat.

“The partnership with United Autoworkers allowed us to pay for the materials and then in turn, they would take care of the cost of the labor,” Carney said. “It was really a very good project.”

Bridging a gap

A year in the making, the partnership between CHS and UAW developed from funding changes at United Way of Greater Cleveland. A longtime partner agency, United Way was unable to continue funding to CHS for fiscal year 2015. Still wanted to collaborate with CHS, Monica Ghose and Alan Bedingfield, relationship managers at United Way of Greater Cleveland, leveraged their contacts to connect the two agencies.

UAW workers working on a patio

“We connected UAW because of an existing relationship Alan had with Ford’s campaign manager,” Ghose explained. “Alan and I spoke with various people in Community Impact at United Way to get the right contacts, and Community Housing Solutions came up because they were no longer receiving funding.”

Pat Wallace, vice president of UAW Local 1250, welcomed the chance to work with another nonprofit. The local’s group of five men have worked with nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity, offering carpentry and other skills as part of a national UAW-Ford partnership program.

Participating for the past four years in the initiative, Wallace’s team members serve the community 40 hours a week.
Because of the partnership, Carney said he is able to do more at each house. Having completed two projects — Parsons’ and a front and back porch and steps for a Cleveland man — UAW is the first that come to his mind.

“I help more people or I can do more at each house,” Carney said about the partnership. “And oftentimes the needs are so great that it’s multiple things that are happening in each house. So I’m spending the same amount of money but am able to do things that are critical.”

United Way of Greater Cleveland participates in toy drive for foster youth

By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer

Hope for Holidays

With the holiday spirit in full swing, several United Way of Greater Cleveland employees continued the organization’s annual tradition of collecting gifts for Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services (CCDCFS) toy drive.

Hope for the Holidays,” the three-year-old rebranding of the County’s Giving Tree, invites participants to donate gifts for all age groups for distribution to attendees from the foster and kinship care.

The rebranding came from trying to help ease some burden off the children’s caseworkers, said Kristin Gardner, CCDCFS volunteer and outreach coordinator. Under the Giving Tree program, caseworkers had to juggle collecting and delivering gifts to individual families, while with Hope for the Holidays, the child’s caregivers are responsible for taking them to the county holiday party.

“Children end up in foster care if bad things have happened to their family or it’s not safe to remain in your home,” Gardner said, “To be removed from your home is sad and hard, especially around the holiday. We love to see the children leave the Hope for the Holidays event with a bag full of stuff because at least it’s one day all about them.”

At the December 10 party, each child received one to two gifts, a book, a craft, a smaller toy and a chance to win raffle prizes like bikes. Pictures with Santa were available, provided by a former foster-youth who aged out of the system without any photos of herself as a child — something she didn’t want to have happen to others.

“When she aged out, she realized she didn’t have any pictures of herself as a kid,” she said. “Which is something most of us take for granted. So she made it her mission to do that, she does pictures and prints them right then and there so the kids can have them. She never wants that to happen to anyone else.”

DJ Reichel, publications manager, has coordinated United Way’s Hope for the Holidays drive for the past seven years. When Reichel started with United Way, he got involved by designing the promotional material for the drive and was eventually given full reign.

“We’ve been doing it the whole time I’ve been here,” he said. “I like it — I get to meet people in the building I wouldn’t have normally communicated with and it [is] an escape from my everyday job.”

The drive provided gifts for the almost 1,800 youth 20-and-under in foster or kinship care. And while only a fraction of those donations came from United Way, Reichel recognizes the gifts of his fellow employees are from the heart.

“Any amount of generosity is successful and this is a pretty generous group of people,” he said. “I know a lot of us don’t really have a lot of money to give away, so any amount of generosity is pretty cool.”

End of year giving springboards off holiday season, promotes philanthropy, generosity

By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer

hands holding wrapped gift

With 2017 right around the corner and the weather in Northeast Ohio turning colder, the season of giving descends on Greater Cleveland. End-of-year giving, supported by religious and secular seasonal practices of charity and volunteering, prompts donors to get their gifts in before December 31 and work to meet the needs of those less fortunate.

Twenty percent of donations are made throughout the month of December, said Dan Mansoor, chief philanthropy officer and vice president of development at United Way of Greater Cleveland, which is more than double the monthly average. More than 90 percent of December donations are given in the last three days of the month, he said.

The National Center for Charitable Statistics supports Mansoor’s numbers, stating “as the holidays near, people may feel encouraged to give more generously than during the rest of the year.” Supported by a GuideStar Survey of organizations, half of those served receive the majority of their contributions between October and December.

The psychology of giving

Nationally, 80 percent of charitable giving comes from individual gifts, and many take advantage of the itemized deductions for donations on taxes, Mansoor said. But these donors may also want the good feeling that comes from giving to others. According to an article published in Psychology Today, charitable giving lights up a participant’s brain the same way pleasures like comfort foods and dancing does.

The article references several psychological studies, including one conducted in Eugene, Oregon proving when people are given random sums of money, one of the most satisfyingly altruistic options is to donate it.

Do the most good

Whether a donor’s gift is from the heart or their neurons, the basic needs in Greater Cleveland are more visible in the colder months. Kitchens host holiday meal events; community groups make care packages for the homeless and organizations like Toys for Tots focuses on providing toys and Christmas gifts for needy families.

“People want to help others at this time of year, there’s a good feeling,” Mansoor said. “Especially as they’re buying for family and friends, relatives, maybe even themselves, there is a good feeling that comes from helping others.”

Procrastinating through the end of the year, last-minute individuals no longer have to rely on snail-mail to get their gifts in before January 1. Donations can be made at www.UnitedWayCleveland.org, because United Way dollars go to multiple organizations within the community, it is a more efficient way to give during the holiday season.

“United Way helps the most needy in the community, in partnership with a large number of nonprofits and agencies,” Mansoor said. “In addition to collecting money, we also have a volunteer allocations committee made up of members of the community, so we have a body of knowledge to ensure these funds get to where they can do the most good.”

 

GM Foundation Awards Community Grants to aid Northeast Ohio

General Motors employees with community grant check

The General Motors Foundation and GM’s Parma Metal Center have announced $25,000 in grants to Greater Cleveland nonprofit organizations through its Community Grants program.

“Through the GM Foundation, these important community organizations are able to drive programs that continue to improve the quality of life in our communities,” said Lamar Rucker, Parma’s plant manager. “We are proud to be a part of a company and community that both work hard to support education, enhance community revitalization and help those in need.”

Funded by the GM Foundation, the GM Community Grants will support the following Northeast Ohio organizations and community programs:

  • United Way of Greater Cleveland ($10,000) – Aspires to create and support healthy communities where all kids succeed in school and families and individuals are financially stable. To do this, they engage community members to volunteer their time, talent and voices to support its work. More than 150 Community Impact volunteers oversee the annual investments in programs designed to address some of our community’s most difficult problems, and Campaign Cabinet volunteers work to mobilize some 1,400 workplace campaigns. More than 2,000 volunteers participate in hands-on projects through Days of Caring programs. The result is 450,000 Greater Cleveland residents benefit from United Way every year.
  • American Cancer Society, Northeast Ohio Region ($5,000) – The American Cancer Society is the nationwide community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives, and diminishing suffering from cancer through research, education, advocacy and service. The Northeast Ohio Region partners with Parma in major initiatives like Making Strides Against Breast Cancer where Parma is a leading supporter in the Cleveland area.
  • Big Creek Connects ($5,000) – Is committed to conserve, enhance, and bring recognition to the natural and historic resources of the Big Creek Watershed and develop a recreational trail network that connects these resources to each other and the community.
  • Greater Cleveland Food bank ($5,000) – Each year, 52 million meals are missed in the Food Bank’s service area. Its mission is to ensure that everyone in Greater Cleveland communities has the nutritious food they need every day through both food distribution and food stamp outreach efforts.  

“Through the Community Grants Program, GM Parma is fostering an environment that supports education and growth of the region,” said Lori Wingerter, vice president, GM Foundation. “Partnerships with these organizations underscore our commitment to the residents of Parma and all of Greater Cleveland.” 

This year, the GM Community Grants program will provide over $2 million in funding to hundreds of organizations in 47 communities where GM employees live and work.

Thank You for your #GivingTuesday Support!

When we come together and give back, we can positively impact the lives of those in need. Our #GivingTuesday campaign was an extremely successful reflection of the true meaning of giving! Your support, whether it was an online gift or a message shared on your social networks, will help change the lives of people in our great, diverse community.

Each gift made during #GivingTuesday was matched dollar-for-dollar because of an incredibly generous $50,000 challenge grant from Medical Mutual. As a result, more than $55,000 was raised to help reduce the effects of poverty, advance education, strengthen financial stability and maintain health making our community a better place to live and work.

See firsthand how your support during #GivingTuesday, and every day, changes lives for the better.


Thanks again. Together, we’ll make Cleveland even greater.

El Barrio Workforce Development works to break down employment barriers, provides career training and services

By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer

woman filling out a financial form

The Centers for Families and Children’s El Barrio Workforce Development program, funded through United Way of Greater Cleveland, connects Greater Cleveland residents — with an emphasis on Spanish-speaking communities — with training and certifications for careers in the hospitality, customer service, retail, transportation and construction industries.

The Centers’ Workforce Development program is offered bilingually, with many of its students learning English as a second language. Eighty two percent of students are minority, female or veterans, Director Ingrid Angel said.

Partnered with employers across Northeast Ohio, including The Home Depot, Dollar Bank, Marriott, Starbucks and Aramark, the four-week program based out of The Centers’ Gordon Square office gives clients hands-on experience in their selected fields while program directors work with them to develop resumes and complete job applications.

“Almost every day a person is here, they’ll have the opportunity to be trained by [our corporate partners],” Angel said. “We’re making our promise real to people.”

filled out time sheets

The program’s promise is to help employers diversify their workforce by offering them qualified, pre-screened candidates while giving clients the training and certifications needed to best match their career goals.

In addition to El Barrio’s on-site classes in hospitality, retail and customer service, it partners with Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) to offer two 12-week programs in transportation and construction. The first half is spent at El Barrio learning soft skills like resume and application building, computer skills and preparing for a college campus. The second half is spent at Tri-C where students learn mechanics for working in construction or get their commercial driver’s license for driving RTA or other large vehicles.

Named a Best Practice Model in Training by the National Council of La Raza, the center remains a strong resource for Spanish-speaking communities within Greater Cleveland. The program has a 70 percent placement rate and a 72 percent retention rate at 90 days. It strives to place workers in positions paying at least $10 hourly.

“I’m very happy to say we’re closing the gap because we’re bringing clients and employers to the same space,” she said. “They’re here looking at each other, talking to each other and that is our promise to both sides and it works.”

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United Way strives to provide access to healthy foods
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