Author: Taneisha Fair

United Way, a funder of history: African American contributions to social services

Taneisha Fair HeadshotAmerica has a long history of individuals who have toiled and labored to combat social issues in poverty, justice, education and other areas to create the foundation we have today for the social service field. Unfortunately, much of what was documented of this history excluded contributions made by minority groups.

Prior to the past two decades, the literature on African American contributions was very limited to history on the Freedmen’s Bureau, Niagara Movement, NAACP, and the National Urban League (Peeples-Wilkins, 2006). Even now, resources on African American contributions are still quite limited.

Additionally, much of the literature available on social welfare portrays minorities, particularly African Americans, as mere beneficiaries of this system more often than as pioneers. This inadvertently contributes to stigmas of African Americans as being victims within the system, and leads to the false perception that minorities are the main recipients of government assistance, while studies prove that working-class whites are the biggest beneficiaries (Jan, 2017).

Misrepresentation of our social welfare system

Niagara Movement - United Way of Greater Cleveland Black History Month
Women at the 1906 Niagara Movement Conference at Harpers Ferry: Mrs. Gertrude Wright Morgan (seated) and (left to right) Mrs. O.M. Waller, Mrs. H.F.M. Murray, Mrs. Mollie Lewis Kelan, Mrs. Ida D. Bailey, Miss Sadie Shorter, and Mrs. Charlotte Hershaw.

This misrepresentation of the American social welfare system excludes important truths about its beginnings and development. The American social welfare system has not always been inclusive of minority groups in the delivery of government programs. Segregation customs legally excluded African Americans from receiving proper healthcare, education, and housing options; and as a result, they had to create their own system of private relief independent of the government. They united as a separate community and body to voluntarily meet each other’s needs through formal and informal organized networks.

“The early development of social welfare services transpired under parallel systems. This knowledge provides a context for understanding and appreciating the African American and/or Black experience in the United States and North America” (Peebles-Wilkins, 2006). It also acknowledges that many benefits offered to the public exist today because of the creation of this private system.

African American historical contributions to social services

One of the many contributions made by African Americans to social welfare history was through settlement houses. Settlement houses were one of the most influential vehicles in the reform of social services during the Progressive Era, with Jane Addams being the most notable pioneer for this movement in America.

Privileged “settlers” would come to these homes to live with others in the working class to learn more about the conditions of poverty, help provide services to the poor, and become advocates on issues like suffrage, legislation for women and children, housing reform and public health (Hansan, 2011).

However, during this time, African Americans were not welcome in most social settlements. This crisis led to the emergence of Black pioneers: Jane Porter Barrett and Carrie Steele.

Locust Street Settlement House (c. 1903): Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Transfer from the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Social Museum Collection

Janie Porter Barrett, the daughter of former slaves, started the first settlement house for African Americans, named the Locust Street Settlement, in 1890 in Hampton, VA. This day-care school included “clubs, classes in domestic skills, and recreation” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2014). She later created the Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls in 1915, which was a residential program offering academic and vocational instruction to delinquent or dependent African American girls who would then be “paroled” to a private family to gain wages. This was a necessary service, as there were no foster homes offered for these girls at the time and adult prison or jail were the only other options (VCU Libraries, 2017).

Carrie Steele, a former slave and an orphan, worked as a maid at Union Station and often cared for the abandoned children she encountered daily. This eventually led to her founding the Carrie Steele Orphans’ Home for black children in Atlanta, GA in 1888 (Henson, 2004).

In addition to providing for basic needs, Steele sought to prepare each child for adulthood; to steer them from a life of crime, by educating them in the regular curriculum, domestic service, religion and farm work (Georgia Women of Achievement, 2016).

Today, both organizations still exist as the Barrett Early Learning Center and Carrie-Steele Pitts Group Home, and are currently United Way-funded organizations in Charlottesville and Atlanta.

Their impact on my life

As an employee of United Way 2-1-1 and an African American woman, I am proud to be connected to a national organization that has helped to fund and keeps such an important part of Black history and the history of America’s social welfare reform alive.

Understanding and acknowledging ALL contributions made to this system aids in dismantling stigmas, providing a truthful perspective of our history, and honors the legacy of every pioneer that helped to create the foundation of the programs we have today.

While my current contributions pale in comparison to women like Janie Porter Barrett and Carrie Steele, it is my goal to produce a lasting impact like theirs’ in the communities I serve.


Georgia Women of Achievement. (n.d.). Carrie Steele Logan. Retrieved from

Hansan, J.E. (2011). Settlement houses: An introduction. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from

Henson, Tevi T. Carrie Steele Logan (1829-1900). (2014, January 10). In New Georgia Encyclopedia online. Retrieved from

Jan, Tracy. (2017, February 16). The biggest beneficiaries of the government safety net: Working-class whites. Retrieved from

Janie Porter Barrett. (2014, October 14). In Encyclopaedia Britannica online. Retrieved from

Peebles-Wilkins, W. (2006). Historical perspectives on social welfare in the Black community. Retrieved from

VCU Libraries. (n.d.). Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from


Free air conditioners to combat summer heat for those in need

By Taneisha Fair,United Way 2-1-1 community resource navigation specialist

Taneisha Fair HeadshotIn the midst of the summer heat, many individuals and families have to suffer without air conditioning, which is particularly detrimental for a segment of the population with health risks. However, free air conditioners are being offered through HEAP’s Summer Crisis program again this summer.

HEAP provides payment assistance for electric bills, in addition to air conditioner units and repairs for those who may need cooling assistance to benefit their health.  Common examples of conditions that may qualify include: COPD, asthma and lung disease.

Medical issues like these may leave many without enough income to pay for utility bills, due to extended time out of work, high medical bills and/or low disability payments.

The program is open to income-eligible individuals who are 60 and older, or to those who can provide medical documentation for a certified health condition.  Households with a member who meets the eligibility requirements can also apply.  Residents enrolled in the Percentage of Income Payment Plan Plus Program (PIPP) are not eligible to receive assistance through this program, but may call United Way 2-1-1 to find some additional resources.

The Summer Crisis Program will be available from July 1 through August 31 and can be used only once during the season. This year, it will be provided by the Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland (CEOGC) HEAP office, located at 1849 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115.

Residents can call the 24-hour line at (216) 518-4014 to make an appointment, or can walk-in Monday-Friday starting at 6:30 a.m. For additional information on the program and necessary documentation, call the Ohio Development Services Agency at (800) 282-0880 or dial 2-1-1 to speak with a navigation specialist.

Free meals during school break for our youth

By Taneisha Fair, community resource navigation specialist, United Way 2-1-1 

Taneisha Fair HeadshotSummer is here, leaving Greater Cleveland kids and teens excited for warm weather. Some are anxious for family trips and barbecues and others about replacing the meals normally eaten at school, which is now lost over summer break.

Feeding America reports four out of five of the more than 22 million children who receive free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch at school will not have access to these meals over summer break. Fortunately, there are community programs to help.

The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), a federal program, has filled this gap for more than 40 years. SFSP prevents summer hunger by supplying free and nutritious meals to those 18 and younger from low-income households while school is out of session. Individuals who are over 18 with mental and physical disabilities and involved in school programs are also eligible for the free lunch.

Meal sites operate in various locations throughout the community as “open,” “enrolled,” or “camp” sites. Open sites are usually in low-income communities, but are available to any child in the community. Enrolled sites provide free meals to children who participate in an activity or program at the site. Camps that participate in SFSP can receive a payment to cover meals for children who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

Many do not know access to free meals for their children is just a phone call away! Residents can call the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE to identify their local sites. There are other helpful resources, such as food pantries and hot meals that callers can learn about by dialing 2-1-1 or 216-436-2000.