Three ways to support a family member or friend who is a sexual assault survivor

Sexual Assault Awareness Month Cleveland - #SAAM

As we approach the end of April, we reflect back on an important month of awareness — Sexual Assault Awareness Month. With the #MeToo movement still garnering great support and furthering the mission of empowering countless survivors of sexual harassment, The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center shares tips on supporting those who experienced sexual harassment and violence.

By The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center

Sexual Assault Awareness Month ClevelandOver the last few months, sexual violence has been elevated to the national conversation in ways we have never seen before. The #MeToo movement has empowered countless survivors of sexual harassment and abuse to speak their truth and share their experiences, even if perhaps they had never dared before.

We all have a role to play in supporting survivors of sexual violence.  And as many survivors are coming forward for the first time, there are ways you can show your support if someone close to you discloses that they, too, are a survivor.

When someone you care about confides in you that they experienced rape or sexual abuse, it can be a challenging conversation.  You may feel that you want to help them, but you might not be sure how or know what to say.

Below are three ways to support a friend or family member who is a survivor of rape or sexual abuse.

1) Simply listen, without judgment or expectations.

Listen with the intention of listening and giving your loved one space to share what they are ready to share with you that moment. What your loved one may need now more than ever is someone to simply listen and validate what they’re experiencing.

Consider saying:

  • “I believe you.”
  • “You are not alone.”
  • “This doesn’t change how I think of you.”

2) Remind them it wasn’t their fault.

Many survivors can place the blame on themselves.  Remind them that they did nothing wrong and that the perpetrator is to blame. It is never the survivor’s fault this happened to them.

Consider saying:

  • “It’s not your fault.”
  • “Nobody deserves this.”
  • “I’m sorry this happened to you.”

3) Encourage your loved one to seek help that is right for them; when, and if it is right for them.

Everyone reacts to trauma in their own way. Your loved one may want to seek help, or they may not. Your loved one had a traumatic experience that makes them feel powerless. You can help them understand the options they have and support the decision they make as the right thing for them at that moment.

Consider saying:

  • “Are you open to seeking medical attention?”
  • “Have you thought about learning about your legal options?”
  • “Have you thought about reaching out to a hotline or a therapist for help thinking through your options?”

How to Access Help

Text or call Cleveland Rape Crisis Center’s 24/7 Crisis & Support Hotline at (216) 619-6192 or chat online at for support and information.  Learn more or request an appointment at You can also call United Way 2-1-1 Help Center for support by simply dialing 2-1-1.

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Refusing to disappear: Abuse victim overcomes the darkness of mental illness to become a shining light

“United Way, by funding an organization like Magnolia Clubhouse, is so important because everybody needs help and everybody needs support.”

Refusing to disappear: Abuse victim overcomes the darkness of mental illness to become a shining light

“United Way, by funding an organization like Magnolia Clubhouse, is so important because everybody needs help and everybody needs support. And we want as many people as possible to be able to benefit and change their lives.”

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In her darkest moments, Lakecia Wild thought the only way to escape the anguish would be to simply disappear.

And by ‘disappear’, a struggling young girl meant an act of finality that claims the lives of far too many people with mental illness.

“I had thought about not being here anymore. Just ending it,” remembered Lakecia. “I had these tapes in my head of all these negative things about myself. I was sexually abused, so I felt like it was my fault.”

Lakecia suffered abuse during her early years in foster care. The trauma caused debilitating clinical depression, anxiety, OCD and PTSD—a daunting combination of mental health problems that invited ongoing thoughts of suicide long after she was adopted by a wonderful mother at age seven.

Now 27, she’s eager to share the story of her transformation. It’s a trajectory that led from despair, to cautious hope, and finally, to a special program that allowed her to blossom into a confident, independent woman with a fulfilling job and plans to earn a college degree.

Lakecia credits Magnolia Clubhouse and its funding partner, United Way of Greater Cleveland, with lighting a path others seemed convinced she would never find.

A 12-year-old hits rock bottom

The thought of anyone reaching their rock-bottom moment is heartbreaking. It’s almost incomprehensible to imagine falling into that hole as a 5th grader.

Lakecia’s depression had grown severe. She was self-harming and experiencing deeper isolation as an intense paranoia set in.

“I always thought people were trying to hurt me or kill me, so it was very hard to trust people. Even though I wanted help, it was hard to open up and say, ‘this happened and I need help,’” she said.

Though her childhood was littered with fragmented memories, the full magnitude of the abuse didn’t strike Lakecia until a social services expert made a presentation at her elementary school.

“We had somebody come into the school and talk about how to recognize sexual abuse, or abuse, in your home. And that’s when it hit me,” she recalled.

It hit with devastating effect. The 12-year-old decided she would run away from home. Worse, she thought about leaving this world entirely.

“It was after school and I was out until very late in the night. And I was literally just lying in a creek, and this was in the winter time, just wishing that I wasn’t there anymore. I didn’t try to end it all, but I was just hoping that it would.”

Fortunately, she returned home that night, wet and hypothermic, and was soon hospitalized in a psychiatric unit. The deeper awareness of the abuse she had endured in her foster home, combined with recurring thoughts of suicide, led to a long series of hospitalizations over the next few years. Despite working with a wide variety of mental health professionals, Lakecia recalls feeling a resistance to the help she knew she needed.

She does not share names, but Lakecia certainly remembers more than one medical practitioner stating that her options in life would be seriously limited by her mental illness.

“Doctors told me that I wouldn’t work. I wouldn’t be living on my own,” she said. “I just needed to come to grips with either living in a group home setting or something more structured, and I didn’t like that idea,” she said.

It wasn’t the future she envisioned. But there seemed to be no other option.

Magnolia House Campus - Cleveland, Ohio
Used with permission from Magnolia Clubhouse

Around age 18, Lakecia began to take treatment more seriously and remembers a therapist suggesting it was time to try ‘something different’. That ‘something different’ was a unique program called Magnolia Clubhouse.

“I was very nervous and unsure of what to expect. But when I walked though the doors I just saw a community. And everybody was so happy and so lively and they were so welcoming. It was just a wonderful feeling,” she exclaimed.

Soon, staff members were talking about ideas Lakecia never heard during her hospital stays.

“The Clubhouse was saying you have a right to do something that you love and that you enjoy,” she recalled. “So I said I like to do office type work. I like reception. I like helping people. They said we see in you an ability to be able to work. And I started thinking, well okay, if they see that, I definitely want to try because they just make you want to try and do better.”

The transformation

Magnolia Clubhouse gave Lakecia, for the first time in her adult life, an opportunity to demonstrate that she had the intelligence and talent to make a valuable contribution as a productive member of the workforce.

The Clubhouse operates out of two renovated mansions in Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood, offering a program based on the belief that meaningful work and a sense of community are integral to mental health.

Clients are referred to as members. They work side-by-side with staff in the daily operation of the Clubhouse, sharing responsibility for tasks such as staffing the front desk, cooking daily lunches, working in the resale shop or maintaining the grounds. Lakecia Wild - Magnolia Clubhouse Cleveland, Ohio

Lakecia’s self-confidence grew as she developed office skills by answering phones, greeting people and performing data entry.

“I started being able to get out of my shell…’Hello, how are you doing?’ It doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re coming out of depression, it gave me a purpose,” she said.

A Clubhouse support program for members who want to find outside employment helped Lakecia leverage her marketable skills into a job with the ADAMHS Board of Cuyahoga County. She’s been working three days a week for the past year-and-a-half.

“I knew I could do it. I just needed the right support,” Lakecia said.

Magnolia Clubhouse Executive Director Dr. Lori D’Angelo has closely followed Lakecia’s transformation and growth.

“Lakecia has made striking progress. Not only is she no longer being hospitalized, she is working in a job she enjoys, and she is a leader at the Clubhouse.” D’Angelo said proudly. “Lakecia is more confident, and it is a joy to see her smile, her humor and her strength.”

The next goal for Lakecia is to earn a college degree. She’s participating in another Clubhouse support program that assists members who would like to finish high school or attend college.

“Without Magnolia Clubhouse I wouldn’t be who I am today. They have changed my life.”

The impact on individual lives and the community

Mental illness is prevalent throughout our community and takes a tremendous emotional, physical and economic toll on individuals and families. It’s estimated one-in-four people lives with mental illness, with one-in-17 of those cases considered severe. Sadly, less than half of adults dealing with mental health problems get treatment.

Lakecia Wild - Magnolia Clubhouse Cleveland, OhioSuicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. and disproportionately effects the mentally ill. More than 90-percent of those who take their own life suffer from mental illness.

Treatment options like Magnolia Clubhouse save lives and help reduce the economic impact on society.

“I know that Clubhouse works because I was in and out of the hospital a few times a month. And that costs a lot of money,” Lakecia points out. “By coming to Clubhouse, I know that I can come here every day of the year, and it costs a lot less.”

Clubhouse staff point out that one year in their program can cost less than two days in the hospital.

According to the agency, Clubhouse members are five times more likely to find employment and enjoy longer job tenure and higher pay than others who live with mental illness.

“The community at large benefits from the ability of each of its members to reach their full potential,” said D’Angelo, who emphasizes that not adequately meeting the needs of those with mental health issues comes with unacceptably steep human and financial costs.

“Not treating or minimally treating mental illness results in people dying sooner, and having increased use of hospitals and crisis services. Without services, those living with mental illness are less likely to be employed or to achieve educational goals, and they are most likely to live in isolation and despair,” she said.

Lakecia has experienced that isolation and despair. She realizes how close she came in the past to ‘disappearing’ under the crushing weight of her mental health problems.

That’s why she will keep speaking out about her struggle and victory. She also praises the support United Way of Greater Cleveland has provided over the years.

“United Way, by funding an organization like Magnolia Clubhouse, is so important because everybody needs help and everybody needs support,” Lakecia emphasized. “And we want as many people as possible to be able to benefit and change their lives.”

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Diversity: a powerful catalyst behind the civil rights movement

Black history month is a time to reflect on the contributions of black Americans to our country beyond slavery. And it’s fitting that we take a full month to highlight and discuss the history and influence of black people in America because black history has been ignored, or marginalized at best, in our mainstream narrative.

As I reflect on the contributions of African-Americans to this great experiment called the United States, I am struck by how diverse our history is, not only racially but in business, art, poetry, music, science, inventions, education, war and diplomacy. The power of diversity, of course, was extremely important to the most recognizable period in black history — the civil rights movement.

“The power of diversity, of course, was extremely important to the most recognizable period in black history — the civil rights movement.”

The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s would not have been successful if its courageous leaders had not embraced diversity. They needed the help of other powerful segments of our society; white Christians, Jews, women and more. This mosaic of Americana boldly advanced the cause for everyone by being physically present, vocally supportive, and willing to publicly shame those who remained silent. There was diversity in the outrage over watching so many fellow citizens being oppressed and denied their basic human rights.

Live up to the promise

Very few accomplish great things on their own. We all receive help at points throughout our lives. Diversity was the help that propelled the civil rights movement to success. Though depicted as a mostly black American movement, it was actually a tapestry that included: Hispanics, Latinos, Asians, women, whites, blacks, Jews, gays and many more. Above all, the civil rights movement was a calling of minorities of all kind, to America, to live up to the promise of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

What did all of this mean to me? I saw the movement’s success as a new beginning, in large part because I was “woke” to the harsh realities of the world from a very young age. I knew about racism, prejudice and the pain people lived in because of discrimination and lack of access to education, jobs, mobility and opportunity. So to me this was a time of optimism. I saw my generation for what the new future could be—a future in which we would live in harmony, color blind, accepting each other for the content of our character and not the color of our skin.

There is still much work to do

I still have hope in my heart for our nation and especially for the next generation. We have come a long way, but there is still much work to do to create the equitable society laid out in the vison of the Founding Fathers.

That’s why I say we all must remember that diversity is what makes us strong. We all have the power to work in our small corner of the world to embrace this fundamental notion and encourage others to understand and embrace it as well. For when we help the people around us be happy, we help ourselves be happy; thus creating an environment that is positive, nurturing and accepting of others.

You see, friendships and relationships cannot be forced. Only when they are nurtured can we see one another as individuals that have value and worth to our community, which is also value and worth to ourselves.

As I’ve moved through this world I have experienced the dream, the optimism and the pleasure of coexisting peacefully and respectfully. So many people of all races, religions, ages and ethnicities have touched my life for the better and helped me become who I am.

I would not trade any of those experiences for anything. I learned a lot from embracing and understanding the power of diversity.

It’s actually quite simple. Live each day treating others the way you want to be treated. Don’t prejudge, and always be open to learning about other cultures. Curiosity is a trait that will serve you well. I am sure you will find more commonalities than anticipated among those that you think are so different. We are, after all, far more alike than not.

Yes, we may still have a long way to go to fully achieve the dream that inspired our extraordinary civil rights leaders. I’m confident, however, that if we value each other, treat each other with dignity and respect, and learn from each other… we will arrive together at the America they envisioned.

Alan Bedingfield is Senior Associate Director, Attainment and Retention, at United Way of Greater Cleveland. He is a lifelong Clevelander who graduated from Cleveland State University and enjoyed a successful tenure in management at UPS. After serving in the Loaned Executive program, Alan decided to join United Way permanently and has focused his talents for the past 10 years on alleviating poverty and improving his community. He is also a diehard Cleveland sports fan with uncompromising optimism.


“Don’t judge a book by its cover”: Black History Month and me

Shanette D. Buford-Brazzell“Do you know what this month is?” asked my 5th grade teacher, Ms. Moore, one day in the middle of class.

I remember the moment as if it was yesterday. I was nine years old and attending Alfred A. Benesch Elementary School in the Central neighborhood of Cleveland. All the females in my class turned to each other and responded in unison, “Black History Month!” We always looked forward to this time of year because each day during the month of February our school offered lessons and events tailored to each grade level.

The month culminated in a special gathering of the entire school. Select students were given the opportunity to dress like the African-American person they idolized, to reflect on the celebration and present a five-minute report. I know for me, the music department’s contribution was the highlight of the program; the African drums and dancing, along with everyone singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the official song of the NAACP. We had all learned it originated as a poem written by James Weldon Johnson and was set to music by his brother.

Black History Month happens to be celebrated during the shortest month of the year. However, I like to think it kicks off when we observe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday on January 15th.

Personally, I have always celebrated Black History Month 365 days a year. There’s always time to be mindful of our ancestors and all the accomplishments they achieved.

What does it mean to be a young, African-American woman in Greater Cleveland?

I was born and raised in Cleveland by a single mother who nurtured four beautiful, successful young women. My amazing mom always said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Twenty-nine years later, her words live deeply within me, because I see how she made sure her daughters would never be constrained by how others define a human being.

After all, the media and society have so often stereotyped African-American women as single and unsuccessful, with limited education, several children and living on public assistance. Other stereotypes have portrayed African-American women as stuck in low-paying jobs with limited career options, never being promoted to a position in the C-suite or leading a company or organization.

When you look at me, you would never know I grew up in the King Kennedy low-income housing complex also known as “The Projects.” You would never know that I am a product of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. You would never know I took every opportunity in school to learn from the people of diverse backgrounds that surrounded me and enjoyed sharing my ancestry with them. Yet as a young person, I was struck by how few African-American females there were in leadership positions, and this was especially apparent as my professional aspirations started to take shape in college.

Perhaps I owe my resolve to dismantle stereotypes to the example my mother set for me and my sisters. My single parent family was led by a woman who created a safe, loving and happy home environment in a public housing complex. She was extremely proud of the college degree that afforded her a vibrant career in nursing.

While reflecting on my life and career, I have come to realize just how much adversity I had to overcome to reach the point I’m at now; a successful young professional with a college degree flourishing in a major market. I have knocked down barriers and proudly accomplished great things as an African-American woman. And I plan to continue to overcome any obstacle that I may face.

A career blossoms

My earliest career goal was to work as a sports broadcaster or sports publicist. After a brief internship in sports information at my alma mater, Cleveland State University, I realized I no longer wanted to pursue that as a career option. A mentor and former supervisor then opened an exciting new path by giving me my first opportunity in event management for collegiate athletics. I continued my internship in that field until I graduated in 2013, focusing on game day operations, special events and athletics fundraising.

My event management career experience has included stops at the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and The Jerome Schottenstein Center/The Ohio State University. In 2015, I decided that I wanted to obtain experience in fundraising events, which led to my current position at United Way of Greater Cleveland.

In the sports and events industry there are only a handful of women of color in entry or mid-level positions. Some of those women I idolize and are my mentors. I am immensely proud to stand among them.

The future!

For the last six months I have been attending bi-monthly sessions of the YWCA Women’s Leadership Institute Boot Camp. Through this program I have gained 29 “sisters”; all young, rising professionals looking to enhance their leadership and management skills just like me.

We have had sessions focusing on emotional intelligence, diversity and inclusion, multi-generations in the workplace and effective organizational change. Having the opportunity to be part of the YWCA Boot Camp has been phenomenal!

This leadership program is another major step in the advancement of my career, providing knowledge I am already applying to my current responsibilities and day-to-day interaction with colleagues.

Personal mission statement

As Black History Month draws to a close, I’d like to share this quote by my favorite female poet Maya Angelou; words that serve as my personal mission statement and eloquently sum up my career thus far: “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.”

About Shanette D. Buford-Brazzell
Shanette Buford-Brazzell is the special events manager at United Way of Greater Cleveland. Prior to this role, Shanette was events coordinator at The Jerome Schottenstein Center/The Ohio State University from 2013 – 2015. She currently serves on the Board of Directors as the Fund Development Director for Junior League of Cleveland. She’s also a member of Cleveland State University Alumni Association’s Young Alumni Council and a mentor with College Now of Greater Cleveland. Shanette graduated from CMSD’s John Marshall High School, Class of 2006, and received her undergraduate degree from Cleveland State University in 2013. She also earned a certificate in sports philanthropy from George Washington University in Washington D.C.



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


Bold stage drama showcases power of the arts to help battle poverty

How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes - United Way & Cleveland Public Theatre
It was clear that this wasn’t going to be a typical night at the theater.

This was apparent when the entire cast stepped into the audience, passed out $1,000 in cash, and asked every person in the crowd to choose how to best spend that money in the fight against poverty.

Certainly not when the plot demands audience members passionately express their deeply held opinions about the problem with strangers in the next row.

But a show entitled “How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes” reveals, by name alone, its monumental ambition. This aspiration is precisely why United Way of Greater Cleveland decided to help bring the nationally acclaimed production to Northeast Ohio.

“This innovative play challenges common assumptions about the faces of poverty and how people fall into desperate circumstances,” said August Napoli, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Cleveland. “We wanted to shatter those stereotypes and strip away preconceived notions, and I think this powerful production does just that.”

“Those of us who have had a lot of opportunity in our lives don’t even think about how the basic things that we take for granted are enormous challenges for people in poverty.”

– August Napoli, president & CEO, United Way of Greater Cleveland

United Way sponsored last month’s six-performance run of “How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes” at Cleveland Public Theatre after Executive Artistic Director Raymond Bobgan proposed the two organizations collaborate on the venture.

“For a long time I’ve been wanting to bring this play to Cleveland but I couldn’t quite figure out the right partners,” said Bobgan. “And it was just so exciting to have United Way of Greater Cleveland step up.”

All shows sold out, including a matinee reserved exclusively for local high school students from a variety of schools in the community.

What is the play about?

How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes Cleveland, Ohio
Bobby Bermea*+ and audience members in discussion. Photo by Steve Wagner. *Actor appears courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States. + Sojourn Theatre Artists

The production unfolded in a fast-paced fusion of traditional and non-traditional theatrical elements, mostly on stage, but sometimes moving into the audience.

Among the most powerful scenes are vignettes in which actors portray everyday people struggling with hunger, low wages, racism and violent crime. Other jarring moments played out in just a few searing lines of debate between characters.

Interpretive dances and a musical number became tactics to creatively examine common notions about poverty. One of these notions included the long-held American ideal that it’s more admirable to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” instead of asking for help.

One scene transformed the theater into a social-activism quiz show, with audience members asked to stand front-and-center while answering multiple-choice questions about the demographics of poverty. The information appears on large video screens, while the crowd shouts out suggestions.

At other points throughout the performance, backstage interviews with special guests were broadcast live onto the screens.

What does the play do to help people?

The crux of “How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes” is the climactic decision the audience is asked to make at the finale of every show. They are asked to vote on how to best allocate $1,000 from ticket sales and United Way-support to combat local poverty.

The money must be directed toward one of five anti-poverty strategies: daily needs, making opportunities, system change, education or direct aid. A United Way-funded agency within the randomly selected winning category received the donation.

Cast members steered the decision-making process by leaving the stage to interact with their designated audience sections. The performers served as town-hall discussion leaders, encouraging lively conversations about priorities and the best way to help others, urging audience members to keep in mind what they may have learned throughout the show.

“We are not so arrogant as to decide for the people where they should contribute,” Napoli pointed out. “Our job is to show the impact, make the case, and then get out of the way.”

United Way of Greater Cleveland Board Chairman Marc Byrnes attended opening night and is confident the project will have a lasting impact.

How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes -- Sojourn Theatre Artists.
Jono Eiland, Alejandro Tey+, Sara Sawicki, Ananias J. Dixon, Bobby Bermea*+, Wes Allen, Nik Zaleski, Cathleen O’Malley, Tim Keo. Photo by Steve Wagner. *Actor appears courtesy of Actors’Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States. + Sojourn Theatre Artists.

“Leveraging the arts to share a critical social issue as pressing as poverty is an incredibly exciting way to expand beyond our workplace campaign,” Byrnes said. “We believe this play will motivate people throughout our community to have a productive dialogue and become more active in overcoming the increasing barriers poverty has on so many individuals and families in Cuyahoga County.”

The show’s full title is “How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes (with 119 people you may or may not know).”

It was conceived by Sojourn Theatre’s Michael Rohd, who took a break from his professorship at Arizona State University to direct the production in Ohio.

“Cleveland is a logical stop because it is an incredible American city with history of greatness and challenge, like many other American cities,” explained Rohd, who expressed gratitude to United Way for sponsoring the play and to Cleveland Public Theatre for extending the invitation to have it produced here.

What’s next?

United Way leaders are eager to further explore ways to collaborate with arts organizations to generate more awareness, volunteerism and philanthropy in the battle against poverty.

“People have been talking about the intersection of the arts and social justice to transform lives and communities for a long time,” Napoli said. “It’s important to move beyond simply talking about it – and this collaboration is actually doing it – and breaking ground.”


America’s true beauty through diversity

United Black Fund of Greater Cleveland

By Cecil Lipscomb, executive director, United Black Fund of Greater Cleveland

“We the people” … three words with so much depth.

At its core, the phrase is collaborative, creates anticipation, implies power and acknowledges humanity. As we settle into Northeast Ohio’s crisp February weather, let us also settle into the significance of February being Black History Month; and in that context, “We the people.”

This is a month set apart to acknowledge the richness of African and African-American citizens shaping the United States of America and Canada. America’s true beauty is present in its diversity of season, landscape, culture and people. It is in this spirit that we would like to acknowledge the 30-plus years of collective work between United Way of Greater Cleveland and the United Black Fund of Greater Cleveland (UBF) to improve the quality of life for African Americans in Greater Cleveland.

What is the United Black Fund of Greater Cleveland

Established in 1981, the UBF was created by the late Judge George White and a host of concerned community leaders to assist and empower Clevelanders in some of our most challenged communities.  He modeled the organization after Dr. Calvin Rolark’s United Black Fund of America in Washington, DC.

Within a few years, Judge White and UBF’s staff were working collaboratively with United Way of Greater Cleveland to address issues of poverty and began breaking down barriers to success in the African American community. Ruby Terry, UBF’s longtime Executive Director, chaired United Way committees, worked with other United Way Federated Partners and coordinated joint community work.

Since 1984, United Way has provided an estimated $19 million that has benefitted African American-led and governed organizations doing exceptional work in Northeast Ohio’s diverse communities. This powerful effort, with the strong support of United Way, has helped ensure resources are provided to thousands of qualified nonprofits, influencing tens of thousands of people in our region.

Making an impact in our community

United Black Fund of Greater ClevelandIn this new era of social service delivery and philanthropic impact models, both United Way and the United Black Fund maintain an unwavering commitment to our collaborative work in Cleveland’s African American community.

For example, investing in workforce development efforts is a necessary beginning at the school level. Thanks to a host of partners, including United Way of Greater Cleveland, PNC, and the Ohio Department of Education, UBF initiated a computer-coding curriculum at Richmond Heights Schools for grades 5 – 12. This program makes use of mentors and enables students to learn not only the basics of coding, but robotics, project management and life development skills. We are mentoring with the purpose of preparing our children for next generation-level careers.

“We the people” … as we celebrate Black History Month in Cleveland, let us not only reflect on the contributions made by generations of African Americans throughout history, but let us also applaud the milestones that continue to be made due to the great work of our many nonprofits and sponsors throughout Greater Cleveland. They are the people and organizations who ensure that we continue to fight the disparities, inequalities and injustices that still linger.   

About Cecil Lipscomb

Cecil Lipscomb - United Black Fund of Greater Cleveland (Headshot)-WEBCecil Lipscomb is the Executive Director of the United Black Fund of Greater Cleveland, Inc. (UBF).  Founded in 1981, United Black Fund of Greater Cleveland (UBF) is a charitable organization that provides financial (grants) and technical support to neighborhood-based organizations offering a full range of health and human service programs for the residents of Cleveland’s African American and lower-income communities.  Prior to this, Mr. Lipscomb was Senior Director of Institutes at Cleveland Clinic and worked as Director of Fundraising for Case Western Reserve University’s School of Engineering. Before 2004, he worked in commercial and government sales, management, and marketing in the telecommunications sector for 10 years with two Fortune 100 companies who eventually merged to create Verizon.

He currently serves as 2nd Vice Chair, Board of Directors at Eliza Bryant Village. Eliza Bryant Village is the oldest continually operating African American long-term care facility in the United States.  He also serves on the Friends of Breakthrough Schools Board, which is the highest-performing network of free, public charter schools in Ohio.

Mr. Lipscomb received his undergraduate degree from Ursuline College, his MBA from Weatherhead School of Management, and certificate of nonprofit management from Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Case Western Reserve University.

Myths, questions and concerns about nonprofits

United Way of Greater Cleveland Kid SuperheroesA nonprofit organization is like a complex machine. There are numerous moving parts that all must come together for this machine to run smoothly. From hiring accountable and passionate people that follow necessary processes and procedures to fundraising and allocating funds to the highest performing and impactful agencies and programs, each part must move in harmony together.

Sometimes those moving parts do not always move in the proper sequence though. That could be an individual’s action that doesn’t adhere to accountable and transparent processes and procedures. This single occurrence can negatively affect the organization’s reputation in the community.

That one instance can change public perception for years to come, making people question the nonprofit and its ability to do good in the community. This is a question of ethical and moral philanthropy and honest activism.

So, what constitutes being a fair, transparent, equitable and impactful nonprofit in a time of public distrust in nonprofit practices? And how do you find the nonprofit that’s right for you?

Elements of trust for a nonprofit

There are many factors that must be strictly followed to ensure a nonprofit organization is successful – making the greatest impact on the people it serves and causes it supports. Some of the most important factors that should be considered include:

  • Disclosing 990 forms when major organizational changes occur, such as leadership hires, funding model changes and detailed donation reports
  • Sharing organizational financial reports with the public, revealing details of funding that go to programs, services and agencies, as well as percentages to internal operating costs
  • Keeping the public well-informed on the status of its mission and goals and what has been, and needs to be, done to meet those promises

According to a 2016 article in The Times Herald, “An organization should make its financial health, board members and mission results available for anyone who asks.”

Steps to ensure you’re giving to a reputable nonprofit

United Way of Greater Cleveland and Rape Crisis Center presentationWith countless nonprofits to choose from, it’s extremely important that a prospective donor or volunteer become well-informed when choosing a nonprofit. You may or may not already know the cause or issue you want to support. Maybe you just want to give back in general and don’t know where to begin.

The following characteristics and traits can help you determine the most appropriate, accountable and impactful nonprofit to support:

  • Has a clear mission and vision they follow and one that aligns with your beliefs and ambitions
  • Are financially sound and have a history of fiscally responsible practices in the community
  • Is respected and recognized throughout the community and by the people it serves
  • Can mobilize and bring people and other organizations together to achieve success and address pressing issues in the community

Remember, identifying the nonprofit that best aligns with your philanthropic passions is an important part of giving back to your community. These steps will get you started on your charitable journey and arm you with the information to make the right decisions.

This article was originally published on by United Way of Greater Cleveland. Read the original article here.

Volunteer Views Profile

Our “Volunteer Views” series seeks to share United Way of Greater Cleveland’s partners who generously give their time and talent through the gift of volunteerism. Their continuous work helps make our community a greater place to live, work and play. This month we are featuring Gary Poth, executive managing director, head of Key Family Wealth.

Questions and Answers

How did you get involved with volunteering early on in life?
I learned the importance of helping others from an early age by serving in my church and also the gratification that comes from caring for others. In my adult life, I became more deeply involved in serving others when my career brought me back to Cleveland about 10 years ago.

Since then, I have been fortunate to serve on the board of several nonprofits. I love helping people and working with organizations that have the heart to help others. It’s very fulfilling for me to help organizations like United Way. I am currently serving on the boards of the Cleveland Sight Center; Cleveland Institute of Music; Community Partner Arts and Culture; and the Holden Arboretum.

Why did you choose to volunteer with United Way of Greater Cleveland?
United Way is a great organization with a stellar reputation and, because of the fundraising capacity, United Way has the single biggest impact on our community. As a member of the KeyBank team, I am fortunate to be part of an organization that has always been a strong supporter of United Way and places a premium on employees giving back to the community.

Over the last several years, I have had the pleasure of co-chairing United Way’s Humanitarian Society along with Kelly Tompkins of Cleveland Cliffs. The generous members of the Humanitarian Society makes up about 20 percent of all giving to United Way.

What are some causes/issues that resonate with you? If so, what is it and why?
As someone who was the first person to attend college in my family, I know firsthand the doors that are opened from a solid education and how it can break the cycle of poverty. In far too many of our neighborhoods, we still have capable and talented children that never realize their potential because of the lack of a good education.
What are your personal and professional aspirations for the people of our region and our communities we live and serve in?
We’re on a good trajectory here in Cleveland. To continue that momentum, we need to be able to retain our best and brightest talent. Cleveland has always been a great place to live and raise a family, but we are making it a great place to have a career as well.

There is a real entrepreneurial spirit here with new companies now popping up every day. Our ability to sustain this momentum ties back to making sure that we have an educational system that provides our young people with the skills required for a successful career.

For those looking to possibly volunteer their time in an age where we’re all so incredibly busy, what would you say to those who may be on the fence about volunteering?
The old adage that “It’s better to give than receive” is so true. The personal fulfillment one gets from helping others is tremendous and well worth the costs. In addition to the personal satisfaction of helping others, volunteering connects you to other leaders throughout our community that share your passions expanding your professional network, which can have an enormous impact on your career.
Gary Poth
Executive Managing Director, Head of Key Family Wealth
Gary Poth, Key Family Wealth
One of the oldest and largest family offices in the country, serving roughly 500 of KeyBank’s largest families across the country and managing $12 billion in investments.

Learn more about volunteer opportunities at United Way of Greater Cleveland.


A promising year for the bold path ahead

Augie Napoli Headshot for UseA new year has never felt more promising. At United Way of Greater Cleveland, we are in a position to transform promise into action against the groundswell of poverty in our region.

The path in 2018 is steadfastly guided by the light of our bold, new 3-year strategic plan that continues to break the mold for how to most effectively tackle community issues and challenges.

I’m excited to share that we are currently in one of the most crucial phases of our reinvigorated process, among the many we have put in place. We are evaluating which agencies and programs throughout our region demonstrate the fullest capabilities to serve as our problem-solving partners.

Change through data, partnerships

Our Community Impact team is undertaking this crucial task, equipped for the first time with a powerful tool—the 2017 Community Assessment of the needs of people throughout Cuyahoga County. This report is the most comprehensive body of data United Way has amassed about the condition, perceptions and needs of those in the communities we serve.

This report also revealed to us that we needed to reform our allocations process to better serve the people in most critical need. The outcome of this was the inception of our Community Hub Model.

The model is designed to provide funding for program capacity, while creating opportunities for programs to collaborate. Our goal is to create a more effective social-service network by convening people and resources to better impact poverty and its underlying causes.

Once we have fully vetted our potential partner agencies and programs, we will apply this very same data-driven approach to choosing which organizations to allocate your valued donations.

And this is where the heart of the new strategic plan beats strongest.

Funding will require agencies to closely collaborate with one another in an entirely new fashion to help ensure there is an even greater impact. Stringent standards of accountability will require evidence that the programs and services we fund are making measurable progress toward long-term solutions, which include:

  • Preparing children to succeed in school, from early childhood to post-secondary education
  • Ensuring parents have adequate financial educations to find stable jobs that can support a household without constant struggle
  • Providing access to quality health care and medications
  • Refusing to allow families to suffer because they cannot afford basic needs like food, shelter and heat

Through all of this we will demand of our partners, and of ourselves, a transparency that earns the deepest trust of all stakeholders and instills their unwavering confidence in us.

Other initiatives for success

To our donors, we pledge to foster a more personalized and rewarding fundraising experience that empowers the philanthropic spirit by better aligning contributions with the causes that resonate most-deeply within. Our efforts will inspire new supporters to join the cause and give of their time, talent and treasure.

And rest assured that the talented staff at United Way is committed to a high-performance, team-centric workplace culture grounded in best-practices and bolstered by the advanced technological support they need to execute our strategic plan.

Together, We're Greater

Solving complex problems of the human condition takes courage, perseverance and passion. Those are core traits that have defined United Way from our inception more than a century ago, and are the very traits that will keep us sure-footed as we surge ahead with our ambitious strategy.

We are truly grateful to have so many of you walking arm-in-arm with us as we take on the challenges that lay ahead. Prepare to experience a year of bold, innovative strides that will not only transform promise into action, but transform action into success.