12 Ways to Give Back in Cleveland During the Holidays

Young Family in Winter Clothes

The holiday season is the perfect time of year to give—and not just to your friends and family. For the 227,000 people in Greater Cleveland living in poverty, on top of every holiday list is one wish: stability. Spreading cheer can be as simple as giving a few hours of your time or donating supplies to help others stay warm. We’ve compiled 12 ways you and your family can give back to the Land this holiday season.



Volunteering your time is not only beneficial to families in our community, but also to your own personal well-being. Studies show that giving back has a positive effect on both your physical and mental health. Taking the time to improve the lives of our neighbors in need gives the greatest gift of all: kindness. 


1. Volunteer with United Way’s Network of Local Nonprofits

United Way of Greater Cleveland is our city’s “go-to” resource for volunteerism and community involvement. Utilizing our wide network of local nonprofit organizations, United Way can match you with the perfect volunteer opportunity that fits your interests and talents.  


2. Donate Professional Time Pro Bono 

Do you have professional work experience that you can use to help others in need? Consider donating pro bono time this holiday season. Pro bono work allows professionals to offer their skills to nonprofit organizations who might not be able to afford these services full-time. Contact United Way of Greater Cleveland to learn how you can donate your valuable skills.  


3. Join United Way Young Leaders 

Young Leaders are professionals in their 20s and 30s who work with United Way of Greater Cleveland to make our community better through philanthropy, volunteerism and advocacy. Young Leaders engage with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland, providing support and mentorship opportunities for at-risk youth. Through their volunteer opportunities, Young Leaders have the chance to grow both professionally and personally. Learn how you can get involved 


4. #Give10 with the Cleveland Browns

Join the Cleveland Browns’ First and Ten movement by pledging to “#give10” hours of volunteer service each year in our community. As one of the Cleveland Browns’ nonprofit partners, United Way of Greater Cleveland offers volunteer opportunities within our community. Take the pledge and work along aside fellow Browns fans.



We understand the holidays can be particularly busy and many of us do not have additional time to spare. Donating supplies, funds and food to worthy nonprofits takes only minutes and can make a substantial impact in helping those in need.


5. Create a Food Donation Box within Your Office

It is so easy to get your co-workers involved in giving back to the community when you bring the donation opportunities directly to them. Collect nonperishable foods, canned goods and toiletries right within your office to donate to your company’s nonprofit of choice. United Way of Greater Cleveland recommends donating to one of our vetted charity partners devoted to meeting basic human needs.


6. Donate Winter Clothing

Cleveland is known for its long, cold winters. For those without homes or warm places to sleep, access to winter clothing can be a matter of life or death. This holiday season, consider donating your old coats, jackets, hats and gloves to nonprofits that provide emergency shelter and housing.


7. Collect Educational Supplies

More than half of Cleveland’s children live in poverty. Its effects can influence brain development, making it more difficult for our community’s children to achieve success. By donating books, pencils, craft materials and other educational supplies to United Way’s network of childhood education charities, you can help young learners support and develop necessary skills.


8. Give to United Way of Greater Cleveland

Donating directly to United Way of Greater Cleveland is the best way to make your dollars go further in aiding our community. We direct funds to our network of vetted nonprofit partners to help improve the lives of people in need. 92% of United Way’s work is funded directly by community members, so please consider giving a donation this holiday season.



Many people in our community are unaware of the ongoing effects of poverty occurring every day in the Greater Cleveland area. Taking the time to educate our neighbors, co-workers and friends about how we can combat the root causes of poverty can make a major difference for thousands. 


9. Share United Way’s Work on Social Media 

United Way of Greater Cleveland is our region’s support system, but many of our neighbors are unaware of the work our organization does. Sharing United Way’s mission and the stories of people we have helped on social media is one way to encourage others to give back to our community. 


10. Engage in Public Policy 

Advocating for public policy that promotes the well-being of others in Greater Cleveland is an incredibly powerful way to give back. Consider promoting government policies and programs that address access to basic needs, health, education and financial assistance. Learn how you can get involved in making a legislative impact.  


11. Prevent Bullying with the NFL Character Playbook Challenge 

The National Football League (NFL) and United Way have teamed up to create the NFL Character Playbook Challenge. Now through February 3rd, schools and students are encouraged to implement bully-proof strategies by educating students about healthy interpersonal relationships. Cleveland-area schools and students still can get involved if they sign up today.  


12. Commit to Giving Back in 2019 

Each day is a new opportunity to improve the lives of people in need. You can help make a difference at home in Cleveland by committing to giving back in 2019. All the ways listed above are just scratching the surface when it comes to disrupting the cycle of poverty. Contact United Way of Greater Cleveland or follow us on social media to learn all the ways you can make a difference in the new year.  


Why? United Way Heroes Unite!

By Jen, Why CLE? blogger (reposted with permission from the author)

There’s a superhero in each of us and on Wednesday, June 27, the United Way of Greater Cleveland wants to celebrate that!

Heroes Unite will take over Public Square to celebrate the United Way of Greater Cleveland’s 2017-2018 campaign. Headlining the Heroes Unite event is Welshly Arms, a Cleveland-based band that has risen to national prominence.

There will also be superhero-themed activities for all ages, including appearances from caped crusaders, a photo booth, games, and a video game virtual reality simulator.

Heroes Unite takes place on Wednesday, June 27 in Public Square from 4-8 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, but the United Way of Greater Cleveland is requesting RSVPs here.

The United Way of Greater Cleveland helps people in need with education, health, basic needs, and financial stability, with services ranging from emergency shelters to mediation programs to substance abuse treatment to childcare centers. Find out more about the United Way of Greater Cleveland and how you can help here.

There is a superhero in each of us and we can proudly let our capes fly with the United Way of Greater Cleveland’s celebration!

About Why CLE?

Jen at Why CLE? Cleveland Blogger on United Way of Greater Cleveland

I’m a CLE gal, born and raised. And I’ve lived other places, but I always come back home – by choice, not by chance.

The people I know who make a life here genuinely love it, but often hear the same question, “Why Cleveland?” The worst part is when people who actually live in Cleveland ask, “Why Cleveland?” I get convincing the outsiders. But when Clevelanders themselves ask, “Why Cleveland?” Well, that’s a problem…

Learn more about the acclaimed Why CLE? blog.



RSVP for Heroes Unite!


Gift of Knowledge: Struggling mother earns her high school equivalency

Seeds of Literacy Cleveland - United Way Funded Partner
All she wanted was to be in school, learning new things with other kids her age. Instead, troubling family circumstances forced Teresa to assume the responsibilities of a parent when she was still just a child herself.

“At 9 years old I had to be mom to four kids,” she explained through tears, recounting why the burden fell on her shoulders.

With an alcoholic mother incapable of adequately caring for a family and an abusive stepfather, there seemed to be no choice.

“I couldn’t leave my brothers and sisters alone to go to school. And if I didn’t get them to school and make sure they got their homework done and they had baths and they had food, no one else did. I had to protect them.”

 “I was never given an opportunity to go to high school. And I love school. I do well in school. I love to learn,” said Teresa, who recently earned her GED from Seeds of Literacy.

The responsibilities thrust upon her at home only grew with time. The sacrifice became permanent.

“I was never given an opportunity to go to high school,” she said. “And I love school. I do well in school. I love to learn.”

Planting a seed

Years later, that love of learning led Teresa to a place where adults without diplomas get a second chance.

Teresa and mentor - Seeds of Literacy Cleveland“Seeds of Literacy is amazing,” are words she chose to describe the United Way-funded organization that has helped thousands of Cleveland-area residents living in poverty achieve their high school equivalency.

Teresa recently passed all her subject tests at Seeds of Literacy to finish her GED after a combined seven months of tutoring and hard work.

“When I got my results after opening my email it felt amazing. It felt like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders. I could breathe,” she said.

For more than 20 years, Seeds of Literacy has provided free, one-to-one instruction that prepares adult students to advance their education, with the ultimate goal of financial stability.

And the need to advance educational opportunities in our region is great, as is financial stability — both United Way core impact areas, alongside health and basic needs.

According to Seeds of Literacy, nearly two-in-three adults residing in Cleveland are functionally illiterate, and 88 percent of the agency’s students live at or below federal poverty guidelines.

A blossoming future

For Teresa, earning a GED enabled her to meet the requirements of a local employer, where she now works in a job she loves. The accomplishment, according to her tutor, could also be viewed favorably by a judge in a legal battle to regain custody of her 9-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son. She also aspires to eventually go to college and study engineering.

Teresa told us she’s grateful and encourages others to support programs that provide opportunities for adults to complete their schooling.

“Donating to United Way of Greater Cleveland is extremely important because if people don’t put other people first, other people can’t become stable enough to do it on their own,” she said. “And that is my final goal. Becoming stable enough to do it on my own and stand on my own two feet.”

Watch and listen to Teresa’s experience and transformation at Seeds of Literacy below.

Watch Teresa’s Video

Help us raise funds to combat illiteracy


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.”

Read Story Watch Video Help us raise funds

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.”

Watch Video


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.”


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.


Causes you care about: Creating a lasting impact

United Way of Greater Cleveland Planned GivingWith the holidays in full swing, many of us pause to look inward and explore fundamental questions about our place in the world. Have I achieved what I’ve set out to do in my life? Is my family happy? Am I true to my friends? Have I done enough to make a difference?

After all, as Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” In fact, we give because it makes us feel good.

The Greater Cleveland community has seen tremendous growth and progress, and our donors’ generosity has echoed this success. Yet there are still many residents who struggle to meet their most basic daily needs to survive.

More than 58,000 households in Greater Cleveland are living in poverty.

Cuyahoga County is home to over 245,000 food-insecure people, making it the state’s largest population of people facing food insecurity.

In the City of Cleveland, 66 percent of adults are functionally illiterate. Four-out-of-five fourth graders from low-income families fail to read at a proficient level.*

Can you effect change?

We must preserve and protect our ability to continue to combat these systemic challenges that face so many in our community. One of the most powerful ways to make sure we continue to effect positive change into the future is to include United Way of Greater Cleveland in your will or estate plan.

The prospect of legacy (or estate) planning can be intimidating. You may think you need to have considerable assets to be able to make a gift. The truth is quite different. Many donors contribute and make gifts to the within the limits of their financial ability and life circumstances. But, even with the many barriers we face, many people still give because they believe it is the right thing to do.

Above all else, it is a chance to create a lasting legacy that is a passionate expression of their values beliefs. It is an expression of their most deeply rooted philanthropic spirit; one that can influence others to make the same commitment.

There are quite a few tangible benefits to legacy gifts too: they require no cash outlay and can lower taxes or offer an income for life.

When is the right time to act?

United Way of Greater Cleveland Planned GivingThere is no such thing as being too young to think about creating a will. In fact, making your intentions known, or confirmed now, can ensure you establish a solid estate plan and shape how you want to be remembered through causes and issues you care about.

Whether your calling is making education a right for all; fighting endemic poverty; reducing violence; funding resources to address physical and mental health; or striking barriers that cause chronic unemployment – you can affect real change. Countless families, friends, colleagues and neighbors depend on you.

If you’ve considered making a charitable gift in your will, please contact us directly for a confidential conversation. Our Director of Principal Gifts, Maureen Horton, can help you identify smart giving opportunities that fit your current and future needs. Please contact her at or by phone at 216-436-2193.

*Data from “United Way of Greater Cleveland 2017 Community Assessment

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!”

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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.