Author: An'Tuan Williams

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Engaging youth in the power of philanthropy

At United Way of Greater Cleveland, we connect individuals to philanthropy and convene organizations, people and other partners throughout the community to affect positive change. But, why wait until we become adults to engage in philanthropic activities? We shouldn’t wait. That’s why we brought back the John K. Mott Youth Fund Distribution Committee with renewed ambitions.

John K. Mott was a long-time employee of United Way of Greater Cleveland. After his passing, this initiative was formed and unfortunately disbanded around 2011.

However, the YFDC is revamped and ready to involve our youth throughout the community to be inclusive in both the committee and allocations processes for determining funding for agencies and programs.

By working with high school juniors and seniors to connect them directly with the philanthropic and giving process, they will be better able to appreciate and understand funding methods. We are in great part doing this through meeting them where they are; through social media and other technologies, as well as in person.

Youth Fund Distribution Committee (United Way of Greater Cleveland)

Who makes up the committee?

The YFDC committee members are student volunteers who allocate dollars towards youth-funded service agencies. The students come from 10 different high schools, ranging from the eastern suburbs to the inner city, and even a parochial school.

The students will have $25,000 to allocate towards agencies and programs they deem the most impactful and show growth using the United Way funding model. It is important that we ensure this process is done in a simplified manner, while allowing them to learn in a hands-on environment.

What does the committee do?

Over the course of seven meetings, our students learn directly from several of our Impact-Area directors. The Impact Areas at United Way are: Basic Needs, Financial Stability, Health and Education. These are the same areas that the Community Impact team and Committee, volunteer committees and others utilize when making funding decisions.

After a rigorous process and debate among the various students, they voted on their top-five priority focus areas. These areas include:

  • Education Support – School preparation programs, literacy support, English as a second language and mentoring
  • Job Training and Opportunities – Job skills training, work etiquette training, part-time job placement and internships
  • Basic Needs – Clothing, food, shelter, transportation, etc.
  • Behavioral Health – Treatment for mental-health needs, substance abuse and prevention
  • Violence Prevention – Educating youth to prevent violence, victimization, family violence, rape and dating violence prevention

What is the process for allocating funds?

Within our United Way allocation process, there is a much more complex set of processes and procedures as you can imagine, but the students still follow rigorous steps. Our YFDC application and award process is listed in the following steps:

  1. Agencies apply through a simple Request for Proposal (RFP)
  2. Proposals are sorted and put into priority area focus
  3. The student committee then chooses several candidates to interview
  4. A total of five agencies will be awarded $5,000 each

This occurs over a seven-month period, with the intention of helping future youth leaders comprehend the impact of giving back, while learning the needs of an entire community.

Youth Fund Distribution Committee (United Way of Greater Cleveland)What do the students get out of this initiative?

Working with the students provides a sense of comradery. Each student gains a deeper understanding that people in our city need help. That help can range from housing and food to behavioral health and substance abuse. It is apparent that the students want to make a difference for the greater good. The most exciting part of this initiative is seeing the pride they have knowing the dollars they vote to allocate to an agency will help youth from different parts of the county.


Learn more about the Youth Fund Distribution Committee and how your school and students can take part in next year’s initiative.


Community Conversations bring outside voices in

Community Conversation LogoUnited Way of Greater Cleveland is conducting a community needs assessment to determine needs and gaps in service throughout Greater Cleveland. Supplementing this needs assessment will be information gathered through Community Conversations, which are being facilitated through United Way’s Engagement Center.

Community Conversations bring outside voices in – perspectives from people living and working in our neighborhoods — to identify the most common basic needs in communities such as Mt. Pleasant, Glenville and Hough. Resulting themes from the various Community Conversations will aid in the development of the Community Needs Assessment final report.

Community Conversations unveil many gems in Greater Cleveland. For instance, Mr. Green, owner of All the Kings Men barbershop, and other local business owners provide needed services outside of their trade. Mr. Green not only provides haircuts and a sense of camaraderie to his patrons in the Glenville community, but also guidance and resources for neighborhood youth. He also organizes block parties, back-to-school drives and assists homeless adults with their most basic needs.

Community Conversations also unveil areas where United Way can work with our corporate partners and funded agencies to gather resources to help fill additional community needs. Recently, United Way worked with Mr. Green, Kennametal and The General Insurance Group to provide school supplies to 100 students in need in the Glenville area.

If your community could benefit from hosting a Community Conversation, please contact An’Tuan Williams, Community Conversation Coordinator, at

Mind Fest Community Conversation: The Harvard Square Center

An'Tuan headshotWhen working in the community, I often hear topics referred to as “The Elephant in the Room.”  From the community’s perspective, issues that are historically a problem are not addressed completely. Proper funding for grassroots entities and more political transparency of funding distribution based on community need are two important issues that are often referenced.

I facilitated a United Way Mind Fest Community Conversation, a forum for community members to set goals on how to reach their aspirations for the neighborhood, at The Harvard Square Center. In the Mind Fest Community Conversation, I asked questions originated from the The Harwood Institute. This model has proven effective in several other cities such as Bakersfield, California and Battle Creek, Michigan. I asked a range of open-ended questions such as how the participants can help the community look and feel better and what is stopping progress in their neighborhood. Continue reading “Mind Fest Community Conversation: The Harvard Square Center”