Family Stability Initiative

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.”


 

Getting the most out of your tax return

By Kathy Matthews, senior program director with Enterprise Community Partners

VITA and EITC Tax Relief for People in NeedEvery year, millions of hardworking taxpayers fail to benefit from getting the most out of their taxes. It’s a given that tax time isn’t a time of year people look forward to, but why not make sure you get as much money back as possible?

One great way to ensure you keep more of what you earn is to take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a refundable tax credit for low-and-moderate-income taxpayers. It helps millions of Americans get a larger tax refund to pay for things like reliable transportation to and from work, adequate and safe housing and putting healthy meals on the table.

Nationwide during 2017, more than 25.8 million eligible workers and families received about $63.8 billion in EITC refunds, with an average amount of $2,470. The EITC is one of the nation’s largest and most effective anti-poverty programs, lifting millions of families out of poverty each year.

The Cuyahoga EITC Coalition supported by Cuyahoga County Job & Family Services, United Way of Greater Cleveland, the IRS, many financial institutions, and hundreds of volunteers, help people claim the EITC at tax time. Just last year, the Coalition and its partners, through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program and MyFreeTaxes.com, helped connect more than 5,000 people in Cuyahoga County to roughly $7 million in EITC tax refunds – money coming right back into our community and being spent at local businesses. This ultimately bolsters our local economy and makes our community an even greater place to call home.

“The EITC and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) can make a real difference for workers who are struggling to make ends meet,” said Diane Gatto, director of United Way 2-1-1.

Free tax prep services for you

Beginning, January 20, 2018, the Cuyahoga EITC Coalition is offering free tax preparation services to working families at 21 tax sites throughout Cuyahoga County. Because workers move into and out of eligibility based on changes in their marital, parental and financial status, millions of workers will qualify for the EITC for the first time this year, making awareness of this important tax credit critical. At a VITA site, individuals can get free help determining their EITC and CTC eligibility and claiming these important tax credits.

EITC Awareness Day tax events

The Coalition is raising awareness of these services by hosting an EITC Awareness Day event on January 26 at Gordon Square from 1:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. There are also several Super Saturday events scheduled with:

  • CHN Housing Partners, hosted by St. Ignatius High School and sponsored by Key Bank on February 3
  • Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland, hosted by Cleveland Central Catholic High School and sponsored by Third Federal Savings & Loan on February 10
  • Notre Dame College, sponsored by Ohio Savings Bank, a division of New York Community Bank on February 17

Join us and take part in EITC Awareness Day to learn how you can get more out of your tax return. We also hope you will advocate expanding the EITC for those roughly 7.5 million Americans who are ineligible, who are actually taxed into poverty as a result.

Are you eligible?

To check your eligibility for the EITC, visit www.irs.gov/eitc. To find a VITA site near you or schedule an appointment, dial 2-1-1 or visit refundohio.org to learn more.

About Kathy Matthews

Kathy Matthews - Enterprise CoalitionKathy Matthews, a Senior Program Director with Enterprise Community Partners, has led the Cuyahoga EITC Coalition for the last twelve years.  Ms. Matthews is well versed in the administration and operation of Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites and provides oversight for 400+ IRS certified volunteers and 25 VITA locations. Since its inception in 2005, the Coalition has prepared over 107,000 income tax returns resulting in $144M refunds for low and moderate-income families living in Cuyahoga County.

Prior to joining Enterprise, Ms. Matthews has over 18 years of corporate work experience in the financial industry in Cleveland and Chicago. During her corporate tenure, she held various leadership roles within the retail, commercial, and client services business units. Her experiences include several management positions along with time spent leading corporate-wide, diverse, revenue generating and expense reduction initiatives.

Ms. Matthews has a bachelor’s degree in English and Psychology from John Carroll University.  Ms. Matthews is a founding member of OutRun Ovarian Cancer (OROC) – a volunteer-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to raising ovarian cancer awareness and money for research and education. She also dedicates her volunteer time in support of several schools located throughout the Cleveland area and most recently, served as a volunteer for Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services.

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

A Greater Cleveland Cleveland.com Poverty SeriesCleveland.com 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 Cleveland.com 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 Cleveland.com.

Visit http://www.cleveland.com/a-greater-cleveland/ to read the stories and experience how poverty truly affects so many people in our region.


 

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Family Connections brings families together, strengthens bonds

By Joanne Federman, executive director, Family Connections of Northeast Ohio

For 35 years, Family Connections has been building connections with families and their children from birth through six years old. At Family Connections, we invite every family into a nurturing community to find their own path that promotes effective parenting for children that are prepared for success in school.

Our five staffed playrooms – three of them located in public libraries – offer a total of 65 hours per week of instructional playtime in the City of Cleveland, as well as Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights.  Through our home visiting, school readiness program called SPARK (Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids), we are currently serving families in the City of Cleveland, East Cleveland, Maple Heights and Warrensville Heights.

United Way specifically funds our Family School Connection program, active in all seven elementary schools in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District, one in the Shaker Heights City School District and another in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.  Our family liaisons partner with parents to help young students master pre-reading skills.

Research, along with our experiences, shows that the same family support principles that worked 35 years ago are still as impactful and relevant as ever. That is why the valued support of United Way is critical in helping us strengthen families and improve early literacy.

Geauga poverty simulation illustrates time as a commodity

By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer

Poverty Simulator

I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to live in poverty. I haven’t had to spend hours navigating job and family services, learn how to apply for cash assistance or unemployment.

I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to pay for my car insurance or gas. I know I have enough money to buy food and clothes, to go to the doctor when I’m sick.

I recognize the privileges financial stability affords. These privileges are something 340,000 Ohio families don’t have, according to the state’s 2016 poverty report.

I attended United Way Services of Geauga County’s poverty simulation first to report, second to learn. Playing the game of navigating payday loan sharks and pawn shops may not be my reality, but it is for many.

This simulation made me fully realize something I’d heard people say for years — time is money.

And if you’re poor, time is something that you can never have enough of. Continue reading “Geauga poverty simulation illustrates time as a commodity”

Broadway-Slavic Village program recognized for efforts to stabilize low-income families

By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer

The Broadway P-16 program in the Broadway-Slavic Village neighborhood was recognized for its efforts to provide families with financial stability to boost academic performance. It is a collaborative effort between several organizations, which convene under the guidance of the Third Federal Foundation, and intersect with several United Way of Greater Cleveland programs.
Slavic Village Development

Playing a part in Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s (CMSD) “Plan for Transforming Schools,” organizations such as Cleveland Housing Network collaborate to lower student mobility.

It is based on an effort organized by the Cleveland Transformation Alliance, which collects school ratings and provides resources for parents to choose the best schools for their children, as well as measuring CMSD’s progress. P-16 also connects with United Way of Greater Cleveland’s wraparound strategy, as it supports two schools implementing the strategy – Fullerton School of Academics and Mound.

The wraparound strategy places an on-site resource coordinator at 25 CMSD schools. This coordinator works to address social problems impacting a student’s academic performance and connect families to community resources.

CHN-logo

P-16 connects several support agencies together, including the Literacy Cooperative, Slavic Village Development Corp., Boys & Girls Club and Cleveland Housing Network’s Family Stability Initiative.

Recognition comes for the Broadway P-16 Program, now in its fifth year, boosting student success from kindergarten to college. At Fullerton, a wraparound kindergarten-through-eighth school, an article recognized the steps that Cleveland Housing Network’s Family Stability Initiative took to keep a family in their home, from helping with rent to providing resources towards stable employment.

The Family Stability Initiative is designed to reduce student mobility by providing families with support towards financial stability. This program is supported in part by United Way’s Community Impact income strategy – designed to help families break the poverty cycle and attain financial stability by securing stable employment and managing and saving money.

The Family Stability Initiative provides resources to struggling families including help with rent payment, employment opportunities and connecting them to wider support networks.

The P-16 program is specific to the Broadway-Slavic Village neighborhood, but combines organizations and efforts across the city to stabilize families.

 

Growing a Healthy Community Forum Series

Family Stability Initiative featured in Levin College Forum Program

United Way of Greater Cleveland’s Family Stability Initiative to be featured in a forum held by Cleveland State University on Growing a Healthy Community. United Way began the Family Stability Initiative in 2014 after receiving a matching grant from the Siemer Institute. Kate Carden of Cleveland Housing Network has spearheaded the program since.

Attend the forum

Growing a Healthy Community: Collaborating, Connecting and Educating

Thursday, April 28, 2016
5:00 – 7:00 p.m.
Roberta Steinbacher Atrium
1717 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44115

About the Series

The Growing a Healthy Community forum series is a partnership between the Third Federal Foundation, Cleveland State University’s Levin College of Urban Affairs and WVIZ/PBS ideastream®. The series will examine effective community building and community development strategies. Over the coming year, we will explore how innovative partnerships among business leaders, community groups, residents, philanthropy and government are improving core communities. Through collaborative investments in education, health, safety and housing they are slowly changing the narrative about the Northeast Ohio from a story of decline to a story of hope and optimism.

About the Program
While the first forum offered perspectives from the CEOs of some of the partner organizations in Broadway P-16 on their motivation behind making the long-term investment in education through investment in P-16, this second forum will showcase the work that is being done in the community. It will highlight the importance of the innovative partnerships in housing, health care, safety and literacy underway to remove the barriers poverty creates to prevent education and to help rebuild and improve the Slavic Village neighborhood.

Speakers
Christopher Alvarado, Executive Director, Slavic Village Community Development Corporation
Kate Carden, Assistant Director, Community Planning, Cleveland Housing Network, Family Stability Project,
Mahogani Graves, Site Coordinator of the Reach Out and Read Plus program at MetroHealth Broadway Health Center,
Laurie Switzer, Professional Learning Coordinator, K-16 Outreach and Special Projects, WVIZ/PBS ideastream,
Dr. Christine Alexander, MD, Chairman of Family Medicine, Director of Maternal and Newborn Services, The MetroHealth System
Kevin Payton, Principal, Fullerton School of Academics, Cleveland Metropolitan School District

Moderator
Bob Gleeson, Interim Dean of the Levin College of Urban Affairs, Cleveland State University

For more information or to register visit Levin College Forum