Community Impact

Mayfield Heights’ senior tells her story of helping fund local agencies

“Community Impact is excited to report that we have successfully reestablished the John K. Mott – Youth Fund Distribution Committee (YFDC). United Way’s youth philanthropy program enlists motivated high school juniors and seniors to take part in a unique opportunity to help solve community problems. The teenagers are given the responsibility of learning about the needs of the community—especially the needs of young people—and then learn about potential solutions in addressing those issues. Members of the committee make funding decisions about where to distribute dollars to non-profit partners that serve youth in Cuyahoga County.”

Steve Borstein, United Way of Greater Cleveland board member and executive director, Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple

A Mayfield High School senior and member of the YFDC class of 2018 tells of her experience in her own words:

By Zicari Matthews, Mayfield High School senior

At a very young age, I lost my father to cancer. Losing any figure in one’s life is tough, but being just 5 years old and losing someone of that significance is a crack in anyone’s foundation. Refusing to trip over this tall hurdle, I decided that my life was made for helping others in any capacity and I swore to myself that if there was any chance for me to make a difference I would take it.

Youth Fund Distribution Committee Awards Ceremony
Zicari Matthews presents check for $5,000 to Neighborhood Family Practice, which provides high quality, affordable care in your neighborhood.

Becoming a part of the YFDC Committee has helped me find who I am and what I would like to become. I’ve always known that I wanted to help others, but actually taking part in aiding the Greater Cleveland community has altered my life for the better. I could not be more thankful for an opportunity like this one.

I know that I want to go into the Journalism field and pursue a career that creates awareness for the suppressed and advocate for those who need immediate and desperate help. Without being a member of this group and having first-hand experiences, I know my eyes wouldn’t have been opened to these kinds of things.

Eyes opened and ideas broadened, I found that the things I haven’t experienced are very real and very alive in this world. There are members of the committee who are faced with gun violence, blatant discrimination and drug-ridden communities. I have been gifted with the safety and security within my community and home where I haven’t had to face those things.

Having the discussions of what we feel are most important to address in the Greater Cleveland area has made me realize that I may go through some things and feel down every now and then, but there are people who hear gunshots as they lay in bed at night and people who go to sleep hungry and without food on their tables. Talking with the other members have shown me that, as people, we are all faced with different issues and there is an urgent need for care and assistance within our communities.

Although we do not live in a perfect world and things like famine, homelessness and poverty still exist, the YFDC Committee has shown me that there is hope for tomorrow. Empowering youth and uniting us from diverse developments and backgrounds to problem solve and analyze situations for solutions displays an obvious sign that we can get through the pain and hurt and struggles communities go through daily. By working with YFDC and finding my calling through others’ experiences, I know that my father would be proud to see that I am working to fulfill the plan destined for me in his honor.

2018 YFDC Results

This year 20 students from 10 area high schools participated in the program. This past Monday, they officially present grants totaling $25,000 to five worthy non-profit organizations. They allocated five $5,000 grants to organizations that help solve community problems (48 organizations applied).

The organizations receiving grants are:

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.


Setting the stage for servant leadership

Peter Orozco - National Urban Fellow - United Way of Greater ClevelandBy Peter Orozco, National Urban Fellow, Community Impact at United Way of Greater Cleveland

I still remember the night my life changed, leading me down a new path and sculpting me into the person I would become. It was my first semester at New Jersey City University, training to be a classical musician. There were many hurdles that I had not anticipated, especially since I was the first in my family to go to college. I did not have context from family members as to what to expect. And being a type 1 diabetic only compounded the situation and my anxiety. These new academic challenges and the struggles of coming into adulthood became overwhelming, which had a negative impact on my diabetes care.

My blood sugar numbers were skyrocketing, distracting me from doing the good work that would make me a successful musician. One night in December, while trying to control my condition, I accidentally overdosed on insulin. That night, I slipped into a diabetic coma.

I was out for a day-and-a-half before the paramedics stuck an IV in my arm to wake me. After a long recovery in the hospital—which consisted of counseling from therapist and nurses on learning to cope with diabetes, I was forced to drop out of school and subsequently lost my health insurance.  Suddenly, I was working just so I could afford the price of insulin.

Capitalizing on a surprise opportunity

Five months later, I received a letter to join a leadership program on campus. It was the first time I had been invited to something like this, and I was excited to be considered for such a great opportunity. The caveat: I could only participate if I was a student.

Peter Orozco - National Urban Fellow (NUF) with other fellows in New York - United WayI knew this was a fantastic opportunity, so I saved up enough to pay for one class the following semester, and immediately joined the program. The leadership program was my first networking experience. In this group, supported by students and faculty, a plan was devised to help me fill out financial aid forms and sign up for Medicaid. With the guidance of this connected network of students and staff, I received health insurance and re-enrolled in school on fully funded Federal Pell grants.

I eventually became the student president of this leadership program and I graduated with honors.

My experiences with the power of networks and leadership education inspired me to build a career in public service. This inspiration eventually led me to the National Urban Fellowship (NUF). NUF is a rigorous 14-month, full-time graduate degree program culminating in a master’s degree in Public Administration.

As part of the program, Fellows are sent to cities around the country to work in different communities on a variety of issues. In the process, we learn about leadership and community development through mentorships with top leaders in the public sector. One of those opportunities was with the United Way of Greater Cleveland.

Giving back through valuable public service

Our cohort had the chance to hear President and CEO, Augie A. Napoli, and Vice President of Strategic Programs & Knowledge, Sylvia Pérez Cash, share with us the opportunities with United Way of Greater Cleveland. Under the leadership of the new executive team, a mission was implemented to change United Way’s approach to social service. This was certainly an approach and organization I became immediately interested in. They spoke of this mission and a new opportunity for a NUF fellow to work in the Community Impact department with Vice President of Community Impact and General Counsel, Helen Forbes Fields and Associate Vice President Nancy Mendez.

Given my experiences participating in and leading a network in college, I was eager to contribute to United Way – especially the organization’s new Community Hub Model of funding allocations to social services agencies in the region. The Community Hub Model will enable United Way to enhance its strength as the convener of social solutions in Greater Cleveland. I then met with Augie and Sylvia and learned about their leadership styles and their aspirations for Greater Cleveland and the United Way, which fully solidified my desire to help make a difference.

Reflecting on my time at United Way

My experience to date has exceeded my expectations. I’m currently working on three different projects: restarting and enhancing the Youth Fund Distribution Committee alongside An’Tuan Williams; organizing the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District Community Assessment with guidance from Andrew Katusin; and writing my graduate capstone on the development of the Hub Model.

The Community Impact team is very passionate about what they do. Guidance and advice from the whole team—An’Tuan, Andrew, Kara, Jenn, Darlene, Wanda, Matt, Ben Miladin, Ben Jones, Jamie, Nancy, and Helen—has made me feel very much part of the team.

The best way to learn about leadership is experiencing it in action. Augie has been exemplary in demonstrating leadership in action and has made himself available to teach the National Urban Fellows what it takes to lead. The executive team, directors and staff walk the same line.

All of the executives, Assistant Vice President of Community Impact Nancy, directors and staff such as John, Joyce, Deborah, and everyone in the Community Impact Department have given their time to engage and teach the National Urban Fellows about leadership.

Board Members, such as Marc Byrnes and Zulma Zabala, have demonstrated their passion and inspired us to continue sharpening our expertise and leadership skills. During my time here at United Way of Greater Cleveland, I’m being trained to be the next generation of systems thinkers and servant-leaders. In the future, I hope to continue my work in community assessments, become an expert in collective impact and call Cleveland my new home.

About the National Urban Fellows

National Urban Fellows develops accomplished and courageous professionals of all ethnic and racial backgrounds, particularly people of color and women, to be leaders and change agents in the public and nonprofit sectors, with a strong commitment to social justice and equity.

Presents, life lessons from a special Santa

It’s easy to get the attention of kids when you show up in a Santa hat bearing gifts. But on this crisp, snowy night, United Way of Greater Cleveland’s Young Leaders did more than just play Kris Kringle for the evening. They also made another stride in their continued mission to help children at King Kennedy Boys & Girls Clubs find the path to success.

Members of the Young Leaders cabinet walked into the club Dec. 14 with brightly wrapped boxes of presents specially chosen to inspire both fun and learning.

“We always want the kids to have fun, but we also want them to develop the kinds of skills they can put to use at school and at home,” said Bill Donatone, Young Leaders cabinet co-chair. “They have so much potential and we’re dedicated to ensuring they rise to that potential.”

King Kennedy Body Copy Picture (Kids)

“When we see how the kids respond we can tell this is making a difference. We want them to thrive in life, and you know what? They will.”

– Logan Broadbent, Young Leaders cabinet co-chair

The gifts, purchased through donations raised by this year’s Young Leaders, included multiple games of checkers, Pictionary, Mancala and Connect Four, along with Wii remote controls. Some of the children broke into new packs of Uno and flash cards, while others put jump ropes and pool cues to immediate use.

Santa’s bag was also filled with 100 books donated by Scholastic Inc. in support of Young Leaders’ adopted mission of reducing the low-income achievement gap for children at the club. The group’s earlier projects included raising funds to establish special reading rooms in several local schools.

United Way of Greater Cleveland’s Young Leaders are rising professionals in their twenties and thirties who work to make our community better through philanthropy, volunteerism and advocacy. The program boasts a network of more than 2,000 members.

Young Leaders set example for volunteers of the future

While the children were certainly surprised by the gifts, they were already quite familiar with the faces that delivered them. These Young Leaders have forged a close relationship with the boys and girls at King Kennedy over the past year, visiting the club monthly and engaging in activities with the children to teach social skills.

Some activities and skills could entail playing basketball or billiards together to impart lessons in good sportsmanship, or eating lunch as a group and encouraging the children to focus on good nutrition and cleaning up after a meal.

One of the girls told United Way of Greater Cleveland the visits and mentoring she received from Young Leaders instilled more confidence in herself.

“I feel like they really cared about me and want me to do well,” said 10-year-old Rocsheil Taylor. “We also have a really good time together!”

Watch the Event

A young man lives to tell tale after dying from an overdose

This is a special story surrounding our #GivingTuesday initiative to raise awareness, funds, in support of the opioid epidemic.

“I’m really looking forward to going out to Arizona, and I want to make my family proud. I want them to see that I’m above this; I’m a better person than I’ve proven to be. I want to make something out of my life!”

A young man lives to tell tale after dying from an overdose

This is a special story surrounding our #GivingTuesday initiative to raise awareness, funds, in support of the opioid epidemic.

“I’m really looking forward to going out to Arizona, and I want to make my family proud. I want them to see that I’m above this; I’m a better person than I’ve proven to be. I want to make something out of my life!”

Read Story Watch Video Help us raise funds

IIn the shadows of a classroom, a young man of 16 sat ready to tell his story of addiction. After some time working up the courage to speak about his addiction, he began…

“One day I came home and was feeling quite sleep deprived,” said Joe, who’s name isn’t being used to protect his identity because he’s a minor. He came home and went to sleep for a bit. His grandmother came home and woke him. She didn’t ask him why he was home early sleeping. She asked him about money being missing.

In a flurry and without thinking he responded, “I was doing drugs and that’s why the money was missing.” His initial reaction was to run, so he left home and called his drug dealer to pick him up and drive him somewhere. They made some stops to get drugs and then his dealer dropped Joe off at a spot in the woods near a local high school. This was a spot he would frequent with his friends when they wanted to get high. Once they settled in and they made sure they were alone, they began doing the drugs he purchased from his dealer.

Joe was first. He took three hits of the heroin, which would normally be a small amount for him, and overdosed. Little did he know that the heroin was laced with a powerful type of fentanyl, called carfentanil, which according to a WCPN Ideastream segment, is an “opiate 10,000 times more powerful than morphine… the drug is [used] as a tranquilizer for very large animals, like elephants or hippos.”

His two sober friends called 9-1-1 when they realized what was happening and he was rushed to the hospital. It took seven cans of Narcan (also known as Naloxone) to revive him and a few more to stabilize his breathing, which still shocks him at the sheer number as he told his story.

“I just thought that would never happen to me,” Joe added. “They [his grandparents] told me that they still loved me and that I needed to start making better decisions.”

Fortunately for him, New Directions was there to help him and his family through this tragic moment and his addiction through providing individualized, family-based recovery programming. Some of the programs that New Directions offers include getting clients back on track with their education in classroom settings, as well as outpatient counseling and residential treatment.

“It helped me to recognize that I had a problem and get me to focus on solutions,” Joe added with a more upbeat tone is his voice and demeanor. “Going to meetings is really helpful; hearing other people’s stories… knowing that you’re not alone and that it is possible to achieve sobriety.”

Joe is moving out to Arizona to live with his father after he’s discharged from New Directions in the next few weeks. He plans on continuing to expand his passion for music as a guitarist, playing hard rock music like his favorite guitarist Matt Heafy from Trivium. “I’ve always wanted to be a professional musician, or like a studio musician.”

He added with great excitement and emotion, “I’m really looking forward to going out to Arizona, and I want to make my family proud. I want them to see that I’m above this; I’m a better person than I’ve proven to be. I want to make something out of my life!”


Opioid addiction shatters a life, separates a family

This is a special story surrounding our #GivingTuesday initiative to raise awareness, funds, in support of the opioid epidemic.

“United Way’s dollars allowed me to participate in a program that gave me so many skills that I can apply in the workplace; gave me opportunities to meet with other people in the community,”

Opioid addiction shatters a life, separates a family

This is a special story surrounding our #GivingTuesday initiative to raise awareness, funds, in support of the opioid epidemic.

“United Way’s dollars allowed me to participate in a program that gave me so many skills that I can apply in the workplace; gave me opportunities to meet with other people in the community,”

Read Story Watch Video Help us raise funds

It all started with a fatal car accident. It could have happened to anyone that day. But this accident was one that would forever change Amanda E’s life. She was injured in the accident and prescribed painkillers to dull the brash pain of that dreadful day.

The story could end there, as it does in many cases, but not for Amanda. As fate would have it, just six days later, her boyfriend would lose his life in a fatal car accident. This tragic secondary trauma was too much for Amanda, sending her into a tailspin.

Her pain medications were used for more than just masking the temporary physical pain. They were being used to escape the mental pain and anguish she felt for both her own accident and the heartbreaking loss of her boyfriend. This callous cocktail of events pushed her to find comfort in the form of a small, scored oval mass that would temporarily dissolve away her pain.

“I ended up abusing my prescription medications and became addicted to those [opiates],” she said as she reflected on the incidents. “That addiction led me to make a lot of really bad decisions in life.”

Leaving her family behind

The sheriff’s department showed up one day with warrants and took her to jail. While awaiting sentencing, she experienced a brief moment of clarity. This is the moment when you recognize that the addiction is taking control of your life. Amanda was still in ‘active addiction’ and said, “I just knew… I cannot continue living like this.” This moment would prove critical in the coming years, as she would encounter her most daunting life challenges.

After being indicted on several charges while out on bond, she ultimately turned herself in – taking responsibility for her actions, prepared to face whatever punishment awaited. She was sent to prison for a term of five years, which seemed like an eternity. “I ultimately knew that I was going to prison. It was a terrible day. It’s hard to tell the people you love that you’re going to be leaving their lives. It’s the worst feeling in the world.”

During her first year in prison, she acclimated relatively well. That was until the holidays came around. Normally a time to celebrate and come together in joy and happiness with family and friends, Amanda found herself alone and separated from her family. She said that being away from her family was when she truly hit “rock bottom.”

“Being in prison is terrible, it is… but, I was doing so much better in prison than my family was at home because they’re the ones who did time. It’s not just me that got sentenced to prison. My entire family got sentenced to prison. It made me realize what an integral part of their life that I am and that I need to be there.”

Finding new hope, change

While in prison, Amanda was presented with several choices for programs she could participate in. These programs are meant to allow the inmate to have proper therapy and counsel to identify issues that led to incarceration and the addiction. They are designed to prepare the inmate for a smoother and successful reintegration back into society.

Amanda knew that it was especially important to choose the program best aligned and suited for her. She reviewed several and focused on a select few that would fit her ambitions for future success. That’s when she found the Chopping for Change program conducted by Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (LMM). She determined that program would be a perfect fit and started in May 2016.

The Chopping for Change program is for women who are incarcerated at Northeast Reintegration Center (NERC) in Cleveland. They are permitted to leave NERC to come to LMM five days a week.

“Cooking has definitely been something I’m passionate about. I love to express my creativity in different ways and cooking is just another way for me to be able to do that,” Amanda stated. “It was stressful, but it was fun stress. We were doing positive things. It was great to know that the things we were doing were to prepare the meals for the homeless population… that was very rewarding.”

The first few months of the Chopping for Change culinary arts program are in the classroom. It’s a time when the women receive wraparound services before ever entering the kitchen. They take trauma-informed therapy classes, parenting, financial literacy, drug and alcohol classes, as well as others they may need to help deal with underlying issues and prepare them for success.

“One of my biggest challenges was just being able to identify the things that made me want to use,” Amanda stated with a grin that revealed how challenging looking inward can be, while sharing her initial Chopping for Change experience. “It’s not easy working on yourself. It’s not easy looking at the ugliest parts of yourself. But what’s great about it is finding ways that you can make those parts great again… you can not only help yourself, but others around you.”

Once the wraparound services are complete, they move into the culinary classroom to learn the basics. They then finish their training in the kitchen, learning chef and front-of-the-house skills.

“Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry is like my home away from home,” Amanda exclaimed as she dipped her head and chuckled. “What was great about [LMM] is that they are located here in Cleveland, and this is where I plan to relocate to. For me, they’ve been supportive on so many levels – not only with the programming, but with all kinds of other opportunities. Opportunities to volunteer… these events that I’ve been able to help with have enabled me to network and to be able to give back to an organization that has really given me a lot.”

Amanda has been sober for more than three years now and has fully completed her prison term. She is currently still volunteering with LMM. She helps with meal production on Sundays and catering events, as well as being a mentor and friend to many of the inmates still in the program.

She now works at both Great Lakes Brewing Company and Pier W restaurant. Her gainful employment at these two organizations was in large part due to her working LMM’s annual fundraiser, the Savor event, where she met key people from each business.

“United Way’s dollars allowed me to participate in a program that gave me so many skills that I can apply in the workplace; gave me opportunities to meet with other people in the community,” she stated with a direct and sincere tone. “And now, it gives me the opportunity to be the person they were for me; to be the change that I hope to see in the world.”

Amanda added, “As the face of addiction, you can change your life and you can give back to society. You can be a productive member of society.”

The Chopping for Change program began in January 2016 and continues to grow. It’s a partnership between LMM and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and backed by funding from Cuyahoga County’s Office of Re-Entry.


A life saved after a 20-year battle against addiction, Part II

This is a special two-part story surrounding our #GivingTuesday initiative to raise awareness, funds, in support of the opioid epidemic.

This is Part II of Jody Robinson’s story. Jody is in prison and begins to find himself…

A life saved after a 20-year battle against addiction

This is a special two-part story surrounding our #GivingTuesday initiative to raise awareness, funds, in support of the opioid epidemic.

This is Part II of Jody Robinson’s story. Jody is in prison and begins to find himself…

Read Part I Read Part II Watch Video Help us raise funds

A moment of clarity

The culmination of Robinson’s collective life experiences peaked when he was 40-years-old with his personal moment of clarity. This moment, often said to change the course of an addict’s life for the better, is “when they see clearly how their addiction violates their most basic values,” according to a Psychology Today article.

He was an inmate when he met an older man, who was doing life for murder, who had similar life experiences. The man told Robinson about all the money he had, the things he had done and how he ended up still murdering someone over money. This man made it clear that this lifestyle would only lead to terrible outcomes. That moment transformed the way he would approach life moving forward.

He noted that “even after you get that moment of clarity, it is a long road to changing, because it’s not easy to change your defense mechanisms, like being aggressive… being loud…”

He would find himself relapsing several more times during the next decade until he was admitted to Lake Erie Correctional Institute, where he spent four years. He received drug and mental-health counseling and attended a wide array of programs needed to allow for his re-entry back into society during that time.

“I’ve found that if you address these issues [drug access/use] honestly and openly by attending programs that are provided in some of the institutions, such as IOP [intensive outpatient programs], AOD [alcohol and Other Drugs] programs and get a spiritual foundation… it relieves some of the anxiety that you would normally have.”

A structured, supportive release

Robinson was released from Lake Erie Correctional Institute in February 2017 after serving his four-year prison term. He left prison sober and clean. He was dropped off at a Greyhound bus station in Ashtabula County in his wheelchair, with $100 cash from the prison and nowhere to go.

Fortunately, Raheem Bryant, a peer support specialist from FrontLine Services, had already met Robinson at the prison while explaining the Community Transition Program (CTP) to several of the inmates a few months earlier. CTP is a new housing program, through CareSource which has contracted with the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) to manage the housing benefit. The program is meant to assist people who were incarcerated and have gone through a treatment program while in prison.

Bryant was assigned to Robinson and had plans to drive to the bus station and pick him up. Without having met Bryant at that meeting, Robinson wouldn’t have been placed with FrontLine. Bryant brought him back to Cleveland since he had no family or friends in the area.

“I too was like Jody… years in prison… 29 years on drugs,” Bryant stated as his head leaned forward, asserting his conviction and passion for what he does now after being clean for 19 years. “I’ve had a chance to turn my life around and give back. For me, this is not work. My heart is in it… we have a team… our hearts are in it and we love helping people.”

FrontLine Services connected Robinson with EDEN, a nonprofit dedicated to providing housing to some of the most vulnerable people in our community, so he could find housing and receive tenant assistance funds to provide household items and furniture. Both FrontLine Services and EDEN receive funding through United Way of Greater Cleveland.

While awaiting formal contact with EDEN, Robinson stayed in temporary housing at City Mission for 30 days. He also needed to utilize the 2100 Lakeside Emergency Men’s Shelter to supplement the time needed before EDEN could help with housing assistance.

“The re-entry into society is such an important part of success and failure. It’s like the missing key, the missing step to people’s lives, who have messed up their lives and are tryin’ to figure out a way back,” Robinson uttered as he wiped tears from his eyes. “They [agencies] were there and they haven’t stopped being there.”

The future looks bright

After a few weeks in shelters, struggling through the initial stages of re-entry back into society, Robinson was connected with Khaz Ra’el, supervisor of housing stability specialists at EDEN, to assist him with housing assistance through CTP (in collaboration with FrontLine). Ra’el worked with Robinson to introduce him to the program, explain program details, determine where he wanted to live and what properties he could afford.

Jen Griffin, director of housing programs at EDEN, said “For many people, especially people who are incarcerated, who are moving into an apartment, it can be very difficult to find a place. With so many barriers, we want to assist people in finding a good, safe, habitable place to live.”

After a short time looking at apartments, Ra’el identified a property in East Cleveland that would fit Robinson’s needs. He was in his new apartment in just three short weeks; another vast step forward in his renewed life journey and to become a productive individual in society.

“EDEN has taken the financial debt of my rent, and my electricity, those obligations that would normally pressure an individual. They have taken that on themselves until I could get established and complete my education and get employed and be able to stand on my own two feet. They literally helped me furnish my apartment.”

Robinson, now 56, has successfully finished a 40-hour chemical dependency clinical assistant training course and is currently attending classes at Tri-C. He dreams of the day when he will be a chemical dependency counselor; a day when he can be a role model and influencer in preventing others from slipping into the prison of addiction and being the voice and support for those in recovery.

He is driven by his past, his addiction, his pains; all with a renewed sense of hope, faith and purpose for life that he’d never truly felt before. This new sense of purpose is a far cry from the many relapses he experienced throughout his decades of addiction. He now understands that he has the courage and power to oppose any temptation, like that moment in 1995 when he found himself fighting his personal demons at “the Rock.”

“I’m so grateful that you [United Way] took a risk on me,” Robinson shared as he nodded his head in confidence and compassion. After a brief pause of consideration, he added “I’m a firm believer that, as a [future] drug counselor, if I can save, like, just one person, then maybe… I can be forgiven for all the crimes and sins that I’ve committed throughout my life.”

Read Part I of the Jody Robinson story


Help us raise funds to combat addiction


A life saved after a 20-year battle against addiction, Part I

This is a special two-part story surrounding our #GivingTuesday initiative to raise awareness, funds, in support of the opioid epidemic.

This is the story of a parolee and ex-offender who spent more than two decades battling addiction – from prescription medications to heavy narcotics – and his long journey to recovery.

A life saved after a 20-year battle against addiction

This is a special two-part story surrounding our #GivingTuesday initiative to raise awareness, funds, in support of the opioid epidemic.

This is the story of a parolee and ex-offender who spent more than two decades battling addiction – from prescription medications to heavy narcotics – and his long journey to recovery.

Read Part I Read Part II Watch Video Help us raise funds

In 1995, Jody Robinson found himself on the corner of Brookpark Road and Rocky River Drive in Cleveland; a place they called “the rock.” This was a place that offered the allure of escape; a reprieve from the pain and challenges life so generously shared. Surrounded by cold, cracked masonry and abandoned homes that constituted the area’s public housing and strip clubs at what seemed like every corner, it was no surprise why it was coined “the rock.”

In the beckoning darkness of alleyways, where drugs could be acquired in private and with ease, Jody couldn’t help but relapse yet again.

This was about two years after his previous, and longest, stint of sobriety – a bit more than two years – occurred during the early ‘90s in Columbus, Ohio. He stayed clean then by clutching onto his one passion: working in the kitchen and food service industry.

“Like fish to water, I got back into the swing of things with drug activity and the wrong elements,” Robinson said with a slight sadness and somber tone. “I was so quick to gravitate to the negativity.”

A distinctive gene is adopted

Robinson was born in 1961 in Tarrytown, New York, a small village about 25 miles north of New York City – a quick stop on the Metro-North Hudson Line. His mother, Beverly, was 15 when she had Jody. She was consumed by the addiction of drugs herself. Her drug of choice was heroin.

Her bout with drugs ended when she died of a heroin overdose when Jody was 14. She left behind six other children from another father; now Jody was the oldest and the stepchild to a father he never knew.

“I had to be detoxed as an infant off of the heroin,” Robinson shared as he reminisced about the story his grandmother once told him about his birth. He said his grandmother told him that “The decision was from the doctors that I would suffer some type of deformity… either psychological or physical, or something… there’s just like no way – a mother shooting heroin through her pregnancy – that the child would come out unscarred or unscathed.”

The doctors were right. He would go on to suffer from the inability to use the restroom because his body is unable to process food and liquid in a normal manner. “… Mine [damage] was more like an internal damage to my bowels and colon,” added Robinson as he rehashed this painful history, while sharing the physical and mental struggles of his siblings due to his mother’s regular drug use during each pregnancy.

He said his sister is currently in a methadone program. She started using heroin to supplement her pain medications when they stopped working. His brother Butch died two years ago in July from sclerosis of the liver due to his addiction to heroin and opiates. Two of his uncles also died because of the extensive use of heroin and opiates. He was later told that his father was found dead in a ravine; dumped there after he overdosed.

His story continued with the deaths of nearly every member of his family due to opiate abuse and drug addiction – a tragic and heartbreaking story by any account.

As he leaned back into his dining room chair in his basement apartment with soft jazz music playing on his small off-brand flat screen TV, faded cream-color walls with no art or photos hanging, he sat in silence for a moment thinking. He then continued to tell his story, digressing to the years between being a boy in New York and his current life here in Cleveland.

A youth fostered by support

When Robinson entered the foster system, he was placed with a family kind and caring enough to take him in with their two biological children. This family was Seventh-Day Adventists (Christian-based organization) and truly cared about Robinson’s safety and future.

His foster father saw Robinson’s desire to be independent and allowed him to experience the hardships of the New York streets. He thought it would reveal the harsh reality of the world and set him straight.

In retrospect, Robinson felt that his foster father handled it all wrong. He believed that he had the hereditary traits of his parents. Traits that if exposed to the wrong elements, would lead him into a world of darkness and danger.

Robinson was right. Whether it was truly hereditary, or a manifestation of his past come to life, he found himself going down the same path his parents and the entire family had traveled at the young age of just 15. This was just one year after his biological mother died of a heroin overdose.

“They [foster family] didn’t treat me any different. I had to go to Adventist school all the way up to eighth grade,” Robinson added. “A lot of my stuff happened when my mother OD’d at 14 and I got put in high school at the same time… the combination of the two triggered some stuff that I had in me… so that’s where I ended up… in the streets.”

I had a whole lot of resentments…

“I was carrying around [a lot of shame] as a weight, and the way to cope with it was to medicate, was to use drugs… because you can suppress yourself, you can become numb this way and you won’t have to feel that you’re worthless.”

A future imprisoned by addiction

From the age of 15, Robinson walked the lonely road of addiction. No matter where he went – he spent time in California, Virginia and back in New York City before hopping into a car set for Cleveland – he couldn’t escape the prison of addiction.

“I went through a two-year period of sniffing heroin,” Robinson said as he mentioned how a chemical, called quinine, was removed from the heroin so it wouldn’t burn, making it more desirable to use during the ‘80s. “It was the thing to do. It was cool to sit up in the club and sniff. I ended up with addiction on that and powdered cocaine for about two years.”

After getting off both, he ended up on crack cocaine for approximately 15-20 years, suffering from its deadly effects and ultimately surviving. The words that shaped his long, arduous story were laced with periods of memory loss, aggression and anger, among the litany of other emotions he couldn’t control.

“I spent close to 40 years being in the streets, living by my wits and being alone… it’s not something I would wish on any child to go through,” Robinson added as he shook his head at the sheer amount of time he spent imprisoned by addiction.

He went on to share what someone who lives in the hood… the streets… the tough neighborhoods in America must have: strength. Robinson said that strength is a defense mechanism you need to have, especially being alone.

“You have to make people think you won’t take no junk, that you’re in control. Control is a trick that you put in your mind to make you feel like everything is ok. So, you’re not in control. You’re actually just reacting to every action that comes along,” he said.

This sense of false control and strength were nothing but an illusion. He wasn’t in control, as seen through his various incarcerations throughout those four decades – for everything from drug dealing and holding people hostage for money they owed him, to theft and violent crimes.

In Ohio alone, he was in and out of the prison system approximately eight times based on his recollection. While an inmate during one of his many stretches in the Ohio prison system, he was diagnosed by an Ohio State psychiatrist with schizoaffective disorder, which manifests itself as extreme depression and can transform into manic behavior and anxiety like a flick of a switch.

This was adding fuel to an already blazing hot fire.

“I needed mental help… I needed to get stabilized with mental health treatment,” Robinson said with a stern and thoughtful tone.

He was prescribed Elavil, a mood stabilizer, which is designed to assist in his emotional stability. This medication also helps with his neuropathy (pain and weakness from nerve damage).

Read Part II of the Jody Robinson story.


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When growing up in poverty, it can be hard to see a way out

A Greater Cleveland Poverty recently began a new series called “A Greater Cleveland,” highlighting the issue of generational poverty. The first article focused on children living in King Kennedy, a public housing complex on Cleveland’s east side. Kids growing up in poverty, like the kids in these articles, may not have access to healthy food, safe places to play, or high-quality educational opportunities. They may also face violence; sometimes on the streets and sometimes in their own homes.

More than 50 percent of kids in Cleveland live in poverty. This is an incredible statistic and is central to why is telling stories about this complex issue — an issue that must be approached from many angles.

Mentoring through poverty

Often children growing up in poverty don’t have the benefit of a positive role model. One of the many factors that can influence a young person’s aspirations and outcomes, therefore, is whether or not they have a mentor. Mentors can provide a caring adult for kids to talk with, sharing insights, advice and experiences that are invaluable. Mentors can provide exposure to activities that a kid would normally not have access to and provide a view into various career paths.

In fact, a 2014 report from MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, reveals that at-risk youth with mentors are more likely to engage in positive activities, including volunteering, participating in school sports or clubs, and holding leadership positions in extracurricular activities. It was also reported that “more than three quarters (76 percent) of at-risk young adults who had a mentor aspire to enroll in and graduate from college versus half (56 percent) of at-risk young adults who had no mentor.”

Revealing needs in Greater Cleveland

United Way’s recently completed Community Assessment identified quality “out-of-school time” activities as a critical need for Greater Cleveland’s children. Mentoring is a proven best practice that can lead to social-emotional growth, improved academic performance and better school attendance. Not only does United Way support mentoring programs through its funding, the Young Leaders also volunteer with Boys and Girls Clubs at the very same King Kennedy housing complex featured on

Visit to read the stories and experience how poverty truly affects so many people in our region.


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A volunteer day of action at King Kennedy Boys and Girls Club

By Maria Oldenburg, United Way of Greater Cleveland, Intern, Affinity and Association Campaigns

Maria Oldenberg at King KennedyWith two younger sisters, it’s pretty hard not to love kids. So I was super excited to spend time playing with children at the King Kennedy Boys and Girls Club on East 59th Street with volunteers from the Young Leaders group on July 11. Armed with bags of balls, hula hoops, chalk, bubbles and racquetball games, we spent almost two hours reliving our childhoods playing with the kids.

We were surrounded by these little kids as soon as we brought out all of our toys. The reason? Well, it’s because the kids didn’t necessarily get to play with toys, like the ones we brought, at home or the Club. They were also quite excited about their new playmates; and their enthusiasm was so contagious!

They made the time fly by so quick. All of the kids that I had the chance to interact with were incredibly sweet and inviting,  showing me their best tricks and giving me advice on how to get better at the hula hoop — even though I haven’t played in years. By the end of the event, I felt like a hula hoop pro!

I also got to spend a lot of time playing tag, chalking and tossing a Frisbee with them. In addition to playing games, we had the chance to listen to the kids’ stories and support them in any way we could. It was wonderful hearing the kids tell us their plans for the future. One of the boys, who was especially good at hula hooping, wanted to be a photographer and we were able to give him, as well as the rest of the group advice. It was a really positive, humbling experience to say the least.

The Young Leaders visit the King Kennedy club once-a-month in order to share their time with the children. You can find out more information and sign up for the next Day of Action here.