Community Conversations

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

Community Conversations works to involve neighborhood leaders in allocation, aid process

By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer

United Way of Greater Cleveland is working to bring community voices into the allocation and aid process through its Community Conversations initiative. This program invites community leaders in the Mount Pleasant, Hough and Glenville neighborhoods to engage other residents and provide feedback on services and basic needs in their area.

Community Conversation Discussion

An’Tuan Williams, community conversations associate at United Way of Greater Cleveland, worked with the Engagement Center from November 2015 to August 2016 to gather preliminary, thematic and feedback data from these communities, which is then turned into qualitative, testimonial information and quantitative statistics for basic needs services.

“The whole purpose is to aid in the allocations process with the Community Impact team,” Williams said. “Once [Community Impact] sees there are common themes from agencies and residents, they’re able to mesh those together to create a sweet spot of information to be filtered out into the community for ongoing relationships and also internal communications.”

Data is collected through Mind Fest, — scheduled conversations throughout service areas — and phone conversations, as well as Williams meeting with active members of the community, who relay his message to other residents.

Williams’ work is in conjunction with similar discussions Andrew Katusin, program manager, Community Impact is having with agencies to find out what they feel needs to be improved and how United Way can help accomplish those goals.

Finding a disconnect

Thematic findings include a lot of quality of life issues, Williams said, as well as a lack of program awareness.

“The residents feel like there’s not enough awareness marketed, whether it’s with calls, emails or flyers in the mail and then the agencies that provide the services feel like nobody shows up,” he said. “So, somewhere there’s a disconnect, a miscommunication and hopefully community conversations working with the entire team here can bridge that gap to create awareness and lead people to resources.”

Citizens have also expressed an interest in vocational guidance at an earlier age. Rather than start in sophomore year of high school, residents want guidance to start in middle school to give the students more time to develop the skill set. They also want educational programs at recreation centers and libraries, he said.

Bridging the gap

This initiative is hoping to bridge the gap between a community’s needs and the agencies serving it, he said. It has seen success on a small scale, with three grassroots programs bringing community leaders together to engage neighbors about their concerns. These programs are Coalition for a Better LifePride Among Daughters and Sisters, and several area barbershops.

Raphael Taylor, a Cleveland Heights resident and barbershop owner in the Hough neighborhood said he is interested in Community Conversations’ concern with the problems in his community.

“I was intrigued by the Community Conversation because it addressed concerns of what is happening in my community,” Taylor said. “It’s great to hear the views and opinions of others and how things can actually get better. Community Conversations are all about people coming together to share our views and opinions and discuss how things can actually get done.”

Working in the community, he has made connections with youth who often come to the older generation for advice.

“There is something being done with Community Conversations, it is a way to have a relevant voice and engage those who want to do something in the community,” he said. “There are even teenagers in the community who were excited to participate in Community Conversations. They have ideas, but no one is asking them or engaging them in the work.”

A report, combining Williams work with residents and Katusin’s conversations with service agencies, will be released to United Way of Greater Cleveland’s board of directors this fall describing trends in each community, similarities between residents and agencies concerns and gaps in the services provided.

A town hall is planned for spring 2017 to engage other neighborhoods and discuss whether their basic needs are being met.

Help us better understand what our community needs by taking our survey


Help stay in touch, informed and educated

United Way of Greater Cleveland prioritizes staying in touch, staying informed and staying educated about its community. To support continued understanding of the community’s needs, the organization is beginning an extensive process to increase its understanding of how Greater Cleveland is evolving. As funded programs, service providers, and community members, your perspective is critical to understanding how to do the work of United Way. Please take 10-15 minutes to complete this confidential survey and encourage others within your network to complete the survey as well. The more information received, the better positioned United Way will be to make impactful decisions and investments.

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Mind Fest Community Conversations gain momentum

By facilitating Community Conversations and learning the needs of residents in the Mt. Pleasant and Glenville neighborhoods, An’Tuan Williams has been able to link residents to grassroots entities in the same area.

AnTuan Williams

In the Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood, residents voiced how they felt about the litter and trash in the area. They also voiced opinions on how to spruce up the area. A local grassroots entity called “Mazorkis Investments” owned by (Akeesha Abdulla)” chose to step up and create a beautification project called Mt. Pleasant R.N.C (Rebuilding Neighborhoods & Communities). From July 18 – 21 the project will consist of picking up trash, painting and decorating city-owned trash cans. It is important to note that “Mazorkis Investments” has collaborated on this project with “The Harvard Square,” another location for our Mind Fest Community Conversation.

After a Community Conversation at All the Kings Men Barbershop, located in the Glenville Neighborhood, Williams was approached by the owner, Joseph Green. He explained the needs of a family, two sisters who lost everything they owned in a house fire. Earlier in the week, Williams met Delesia Robinson, the founder of Pride Among Daughter and Sisters Inc. (P.A.D.S.). He linked Green and Robinson, and not only was the family in need helped directly, the partnership has built greater awareness of P.A.D.S. in the neighborhood.

Learn more about Community Conversations →

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”