Fighting Against Mental Health Stigma

Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States and the leading cause of disability worldwide. Globally, more than 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression. For some individuals, it can interfere with their ability to accomplish daily activities.

Despite reports from the National Institute of Mental Health that 6.7% of all U.S. adults have experienced at least one depressive episode, stigmas remain attached to mental disorders. This form of societal prejudice was familiar to Melodie well before she began struggling with her own depression.

“My sister is mentally ill and there was a stigma attached with that,” says Melodie, a patient at United Way-funded Far West Center. “We were always told at home not to tell anyone about it and that it was a secret.”

Then, Melodie and her friend were involved in a serious car accident that dramatically impacted Melodie’s mental well-being. “After the car accident, I withdrew myself from all social activities. I knew I needed help. My sister was coming to Far West, so I went with her to a group therapy class. Afterward, an employee approached me and said, ‘Let’s see you by yourself too.’”

Expression Through Art Therapy

With United Way funding, individuals in the Greater Cleveland area are granted access to counseling, art therapy and other therapeutic methods to treat depression, anxiety and other mental disorders.

After several sessions at Far West Center, Melodie still struggled with socializing with others. She tried different forms of therapy until she began attending the center’s art club to help treat her depression. It was then that Melodie began to see dramatic changes.

“One of the first art assignments I was given was to draw how do you see yourself, how do you think others see you and what you like to see,” said Melodie. “What I drew first wasn’t even a human person—one was a couch potato and the other was just a big blob. But in the third drawing, I drew myself as a professional photographer and as an artist. And you know what, I actually achieved my goals.”


Melodie Portrait

There are many different approaches to treating mental disorders that provide those diagnosed with the necessary strength they need to achieve recovery. Individuals evaluating treatment can choose the process that works best for them. Different mental health treatments include, but are not limited to:

-Support Groups
-Art Therapy
-Music Therapy
-Peer Support

For Melodie, art therapy helped treat her depression in ways she never imagined. “The art therapy program was a game changer for me because it let the walls come down,” she said with a grin. “Not being in a clinical situation one-on-one was extremely helpful. Instead, you focus on expressing yourself through the art.” Today, Melodie continues to work to improve her mental health and now commissions her art and photography all over Northeast Ohio.

Stand Against Mental Health Stigma

The stigma surrounding mental health disorders often prevents people from seeking the help they need. This is an unacceptable burden to carry for those already in pain. While the societal stigma has reduced in recent years, there is still more work to be done. You can help advocate for individuals like Melodie fighting against the stigma of mental illness by engaging in public policy and donating to United Way of Greater Cleveland. United, we can build a kinder, healthier Cleveland for everyone.

Do you or a loved one need help accessing mental health resources? Call 2-1-1 to speak with a mental health professional trained in helping individuals find the care they need.

3 Ways to Keep Kids Safe this Summer

Keep kids safe this summer - United Way of Greater ClevelandGuest post by Christine Sanchez, manager of PR at United Way Worldwide

With summer in full swing, many of us are heading outdoors with family.  But it can be easy to let our guard down when it comes to safety. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to ensure kids stay safe outdoors.

  1. Be careful of heat and sun. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns that most sun damage occurs in childhood, and advises caution between 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Babies under six months should avoid direct sunlight, wear brimmed hats and lightweight clothing that covers their arms and legs. Older kids should wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 or greater. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before heading outside and remember to reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating. Always check the back seat for kids or pets when leaving your car. Temperatures inside a parked car can hit 160 degrees in less than 10 minutes on a 90-degree day. There are apps available that will remind you to check your back seat once you reach your destination.
  2. Don’t mess around when it comes to water safety. Did you know drowning is one of the top causes of accidental death in children? Always make sure kids have your full attention when they’re in or around water. Learning the basics of swimming is also key. New guidelines from the AAP say parents should consider a child’s exposure to water, emotional development, and physical abilities before enrolling kids under four in swim lessons. Fencing off your pool is a critical safety measure for you and your neighbor’s kids. And learning CPR, available through the American Red Cross, is always a good idea.
  3. Watch those mosquitoes and ticks. These critters don’t have to put a damper on your outdoor fun, so make sure to use insect repellent that has DEET or another EPA-approved ingredient. Insect repellant isn’t recommended for babies under two months, so make sure their clothing covers their arms and legs and use mosquito netting over cribs, strollers and baby carriers. For everyone else, EPA has information on finding the right repellent for you. And remember: always apply sunscreen first, then your insect repellent.

Keep these tips top-of-mind the next time you head out, and teach your kids the importance of staying safe outside. If you spot a person or pet trapped in a hot car, call 911 immediately. For more information and local resources, call 2-1-1.

Reposted with permission from United Way Worldwide (original post)

Therapy helps autistic boy make great strides

Achievement Centers for Children - Autism Therapy Cleveland

His parents didn’t understand why, but the spirited toddler who always appeared content and expressive began to change.

After several months of doctor appointments and testing, the heart-breaking conclusion would force Logan Mehic’s family to confront their new reality: seeking the best treatment for their beloved son’s severe case of autism.

“When we originally got this diagnosis, it was almost like somebody handed you a terminal disease,” recalled the child’s father, Adi Mehic. “You’re told that your son is going to be non-communicative, might need assisted living the rest of his life.”

Logan’s condition, according to his mother, Samantha, grew more unmanageable when he started behaving aggressively toward others.

“The moment I realized Logan needed extra help that we couldn’t give him as parents was when he went from a kid who threw no fits to a kid who would bite and hit,” she said. “We wanted to give him the best chance we could, so we reached out for help.”

The helping hand that reached back came from the dedicated staff at Achievement Centers for Children, a United Way-funded partner that has been treating clients with disabilities for nearly eight decades.

Samantha recounted the stress of their first visit to have Logan evaluated.

“It really was a difficult one. No parent wants to hear that their child doesn’t meet standards. But they really made us feel comfortable that even though he didn’t meet these, he was going to in the future.”

That spirit of hope is reflected in the agency’s mission statement, which pledges to “empower children and adults with disabilities, and their families, to achieve their greatest potential.” In the case of Logan, Achievement Centers designed a comprehensive treatment plan that has led to significant progress over the past two years.

“His growth in the past two years at the Achievement Centers is something like I’ve never seen and I feel like we have changed all those pre-conceived notions about what autism was.” – Adi Mehic, Logan’s father

He’s a little fish

Logan’s treatment plan incorporates physical, speech and occupational therapy, which all have proven highly beneficial.

Achievement Centers for Children - Autism Therapy ClevelandHis favorite form of therapy, however, is one that allows this 5-year-old to spend time in the pool.

“He loves to swim. He’s a little fish,” said Samantha, with a mother’s pride. “We got him to aquatic therapy about a year ago and we were really excited because Logan has always loved the water.”

Logan has been working with an adapted aquatics instructor, Holly Osborne, and the two have grown close. These sessions have produced measurable results in terms of improved temperament and language skills.

“When he started he didn’t speak—no words. And now he repeats, he can request, which I think is fabulous,” explained Holly. “We have also worked on patience, which doesn’t seem like it would be an aquatics type of lesson, but it is because he is now able to wait when I say ‘one, two, three, go.’”

Logan’s parents note that aquatics therapy just makes their son feel good, which alone is a blessing they celebrate each time they see him laughing and splashing in the water.

“Swimming really helps turn his day around,” said Adi. “Even when we’re going through a really frustrating day where he’s had too much on his plate or he’s been pushed a little too far, swimming is his outlet where he goes to feel like Logan again. It’s a release for him, physically and mentally, and elevates his mood, or frankly, poops him out.”

Making an impact in more ways than one

United Way-funding helps make it possible for Achievement Centers for Children to help families like Logan’s.

A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study estimates 1 in 59 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD); and last year, Achievement Centers served more than 600 clients with ASD.

Data and evidence are important to Logan’s parents. Equally important, though, are the “everyday life” moments that demonstrate their child is indeed progressing.

“I remember the first day he walked up and he handed me a cup—and he goes ‘Dad, I want water.’ That’s one of those moments that people with a typically developed child really take for granted. And it’s not something you see every day and, it’s … it’ll make a big man cry, I’ll tell you that much.”

Adi and Samantha credit Achievement Centers with helping their entire family cope, grow closer and learn how to play a vital role in Logan’s therapy. They also believe Logan is on his way to reaching his full potential.

“People donating to United Way should ask themselves one question,” added Adi. “Do you really want to make a difference in this child’s life? And do you really want to affect the families of children who have autism and special needs?”

Watch Logan’s Story

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

Sexual Assault Awareness Month Cleveland - #SAAM

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

By The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center

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

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

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

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

1) Simply listen, without judgment or expectations.

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

Consider saying:

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

2) Remind them it wasn’t their fault.

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

Consider saying:

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

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

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

Consider saying:

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

How to Access Help

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

Learn more at


Personal approach to treating mental health

Neighborhood Family Practice - World Health Day Header

By Maryann Kuzila, LPCC-S, Neighborhood Family Practice behavioral health therapist

World Health Day is celebrated every year on April 7, and this year it is more important than ever that we do what is needed to support people struggling with mental health issues. While we’ve made great strides, it’s an unfortunate truth that a stigma surrounding mental health still exists.

People with mental health issues often feel uncomfortable, embarrassed or believe they should handle their struggles alone. Many times, they don’t even know there is help available.

At Neighborhood Family Practice (NFP), a United Way funded organization, our medical providers, behavioral health providers and other care team members work together to identify when a patient is struggling early on and provide the support that is best suited for him or her.

The toll of stressors, how to support

We know that the toll of stressors on a person’s physical and mental health can be enormous.  At NFP, we believe strong relationships between providers and patients are key to creating a trusting space for patients to discuss their struggles. Regular screenings related to, for example, substance use and depression allow the medical provider to link the patient to appropriate mental health services.

Patients may struggle with depression, loss of employment, caring for an ill family member, relationship issues and much more. We realize that supporting the patient early on prevents the problem from worsening. Letting the patient know they do not need to carry the burden alone is perhaps even more important in successful treatment.

Personal forms of assistance

One of the ways NFP assists patients is by offering a personalized session with a member of our behavioral health team. After undergoing a thorough assessment with the behavioral health team, the patient and therapist develop a course of treatment that will benefit the patient most. Other times, the patient’s needs require that we pair them with other organizations and resources in the community. With the assistance of our linkage coordinator, we help them navigate that process.

Did You Know?
Studies show that people with mental health problems get better and many recover completely. There are more treatments, services and community support systems than ever before, and they work. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
How are we helping?
As a result of United Way-funded programs, 368 people receiving trauma therapy reported a reduction in PTSD symptoms (78 percent).

Our patients report feeling very supported by our team approach to their care. At NFP, it’s our belief that everyone deserves access to care regardless of ability to pay, and to be treated with compassion, dignity and respect.

Maryann Kuzila, LPCC-S
Neighborhood Family Practice behavioral health therapist

Maryann Kuzila, LPCC-S, began working at Neighborhood Family Practice in 2013 as a behavioral health therapist. She previously worked at Recovery Resources as a mental health assessor, clinical therapist, group facilitator and alcohol and drug therapist. Maryann has over 15 years in the field and holds a bachelor of arts in Psychology from Cleveland State and a master of arts in Counseling and Human Services from John Carroll University.





Help us raise funds to combat mental health issues


Your health determines your success

Ben MiladinAt United Way of Greater Cleveland, we observe World Health Day and support its mission with great purpose, as it matches our mission and ambitions – to reduce poverty and provide greater access to critical health services and coverage.

One of the topics I will discuss specific to World Health Day is the term “population health.” It was introduced in 2003 and defined as “the health outcome of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group.”

United Way of Greater Cleveland works on addressing the health of the local population in multiple ways, by assisting people with direct health issues, employment, education and basic needs. While I help determine how funds are distributed to agencies in a funding area, or Hub, we call “Health,” all of our funding aids in improving our population health outcomes.

How do we impact health?

In our Health funding area, I work with a team of community volunteers to reduce the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (commonly referred to as ACEs). We fund programs that work to reduce violence, and ones that provide evidence-based care to people who have already experienced psychological trauma.

Evidence shows that people who experience fewer ACEs and less chronic stress, or who have support for recovery from ACEs, will on average have better physical and psychological health down the road. We also support patients who need support managing chronic illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure. While these are fairly obvious ways of helping improve our population health, other areas of assistance might be more surprising.

What other areas of health are there?

For example, United Way funds several programs that assist people with finding employment and career paths. Having reliable and meaningful work can be tremendously important for people’s health. We also help people access their Basic Needs, including food, housing, transportation and medication.

Without access to these basic life necessities, good health will be out of reach for many people. And through funding early childhood programs, and through our Wraparound Initiative in the Cleveland Municipal School District, we strive to make sure children attain higher levels of education, which is associated with long-term better health outcomes.

Finally, United Way of Greater Cleveland is the lead agency on a pilot initiative with several local partners to aid people with their health-related social needs. As we near the launch of this exciting endeavor, we will have more information to share.

If you would like to learn more about our work in the health arena, please visit our Web page at

Did You Know?
One in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90 percent of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence. (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence)
How are we helping?
As a result of United Way-funded programs, 6,504 people learned how to recognize the signs of abuse and neglect and how to respond appropriately.

Help us raise funds to support health challenges in our region


Clinic’s Approach Helps Patient Overcome Obesity

Neighborhood Family Practice - Obesity - United Way SupportIt’s hard to imagine the slight frame of Tracie Chandler supporting 240 pounds. But for years that’s the burden she endured—a burden that led to a debilitating combination of physical and mental health problems that seemed insurmountable.

She was another statistic in a nationwide epidemic that shows, according to the latest data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, four in ten Americans are considered obese.

“I was unhealthy; high blood pressure, then I developed eczema, and developed chronic depression,” Tracie recalls. “I knew I had to make a change.”

“The more and more care I started getting here, everything changed on me from the inside out,” Tracie Chandler, patient.

Finding the courage

Change came when Tracie summoned the courage to walk through the doors of Neighborhood Family Practice, a clinic located across from the grocery store where she had made so many poor dietary choices and experienced crippling anxiety attacks.

A sense of hope blossomed from the moment she made her first appointment.

“The more and more care I started getting here, everything changed on me from the inside out,” she said.

Neighborhood Family Practice - Obesity - United Way SupportNeighborhood Family Practice, a United Way-funded partner, offers primary care services regardless of ability to pay in a dozen neighborhoods throughout Cleveland. Doctors, nurses and social workers focus on an integrated health approach, always seeking to identify and treat a patient’s physical and mental health concerns.

The result

Tracie’s treatment has been a success. Through counseling and medical care, she slimmed down to 124 pounds and no longer requires prescription medications for hypertension and high cholesterol.

She’s proud of her ability to substitute healthier foods for the cake, chips and soda that once fueled her weight gain, and she exercises regularly by taking long walks. Ongoing meetings with her behavioral health therapist have kept her on track for nearly seven years.

“I want to get the word out and be a voice to other women that you can do it,” Tracie urged. “If I did it you can do it. We all can walk this journey together.”

Watch and listen to Tracie’s powerful experience at Neighborhood Family Practice below.

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.”

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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.”


Coping with mental illness: moving clients from “survive” to “thrive”

Magnolia House Campus - Cleveland, Ohio
Used with permission from Magnolia Clubhouse
Through a compassionate blend of mental health services, employment training and friendship, Magnolia Clubhouse – a United Way-funded partner – empowers clients to achieve healthier and happier lives.

They see daily success in the accomplishments of Clubhouse members who are gaining stability and greater independence in the supportive environment of their unique center on University Circle.

Adults who have experienced limitations because of their mental-health issues work in close partnership with staff to develop marketable job skills that lead to gainful employment opportunities both there at the Clubhouse and throughout the community.

“Doctors had told me I wouldn’t be able to work. But by coming to the Clubhouse I said people here are just like me. They’re working. So I’m going to try,” said Lakecia, client and now employed as a result of help from the Clubhouse. “Without the clubhouse, I just wouldn’t have been able to sustain…”

They guide members in furthering their education by making measurable progress toward attaining a GED or attending college. Valuable life-skills are cultivated through our onsite programs that include: financial management, food service, horticulture, writing and video production.

Magnolia Clubhouse medical staff ensures members have access to the primary care and psychiatric services they need.

What they do works. Data shows Magnolia Clubhouse clients have higher rates of employment and lower rates of hospitalization and incarceration. They also report a decrease in the frequency and intensity of symptoms.

“The really great thing about being here at Magnolia Clubhouse is we’re all a family. I feel like I’ve got 75 brothers and sisters. It’s just a wonderful place to be,” said William, a Magnolia Clubhouse member.

Please watch the video below to better understand the difference they make in the lives of Magnolia House members: