United Way focuses our work on Education, Income and Health. But what exactly do these areas encompass, how are they defined and how do they work together? I work in the Income area, so I see everything through that lens; it’s a starting point to show how Education, Income and Health are really a single focus helping everyone achieve their dreams — for today and tomorrow.
In the income area we help people and families gain employment to sustain themselves by bringing more dollars into the household. We also work on the other side with expenses. Managing money coming in (employment and benefits) and money going out (housing, food, basic needs and savings) is really the overarching view of what income volunteers and staff work on.
How do health and education affect income? For many families or individuals who fall into financial crisis, it is the result of a health crisis that makes expenses soar or inhibits work attendance. Before long the entire family has the huge stress of managing a difficult financial situation. Even the kids are affected, and their school work suffers. Academic success is a life-long journey beginning as young as preschool. Just having the income to attend college doesn’t mean you have the educational background to pursue a degree. And, having the grades and money to attend college won’t help if you are unable to stay healthy or you have to care for a family member who is ill. So these three areas of life — education, income and health — are the building blocks of a quality life. If one block is missing, the structure falls. And for people living paycheck to paycheck, often it is just that one financial disaster that changes everything.
Our work in the Community Impact department is based on a model called Collective Impact, which includes conditions of shared vision, agreements on measurements, diverse stakeholders, continuous communication and strong, independent support. The primary aim is to collectively align our work to leverage every investment for maximum impact across all three areas — education, income and health.
Imagine one of the 150,000 households in Cuyahoga County who face Severe Housing Burden (more than 50 percent of income goes to housing). The children in this family have attended the same school for years but a cut in work hours caused the parents to decide on groceries over the full rent or mortgage. Now they must move in the middle of the school year. Children struggle to maintain grade level when they change schools mid-year. The new apartment is near the highway and causes an increase in asthma attacks and missed school days and work days (can’t leave your sick kids home alone, can you?). The hours of work the family lost don’t just impact their income but have ripple effects on health and education. This is why our work in education, income and health is interconnected.
Our lives are not divided into distinct categories and our problems aren’t, either. We all know that one forgotten bill, one missed bus or one sick day can cause unforeseen issues in our lives. Asking a family member for a loan, being late to work because you had to drive your kid to school, or getting someone to watch a sick child are disruptions that can’t happen every day. Our investments in the community are done with this in mind and through our education, income and health areas we aim to ensure that everyone has the chance for a quality life.
Here is an animated look at how education, income and health work together.