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.  


My volunteer experience as a Young Leader

National Volunteer Week in Cleveland - United Way

By Jamal Robinson, IT systems engineer, Progressive Insurance

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing to help others?” A quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., a civil rights activist I most admire.

This quote has been a driving factor in my personal and professional life. Community involvement to me means that I have the opportunity to inspire. Growing up, I had the opportunity to attend the Boys and Girls Clubs for two summers.

National Volunteer Week in Cleveland - United WayThat experience was important to the development of life skills. I mention this because I now realize the bigger meaning in using community involvement to serve as a role model for children who are not exposed to many, or in some cases any, successful individuals.

Volunteering with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland has been one of the most rewarding activities that I have completed. I say this because I now realize the bigger picture of the Boys and Girls Clubs and how I have a direct impact to help children in underprivileged communities.

Because of my great volunteer experiences, I joined the Young Leaders marketing subcommittee in January 2018.

About Jamal

Jamal Robinson was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, when he was 12. Jamal completed his undergraduate studies at Georgia State University located in Downtown Atlanta. While attending Georgia State University, Jamal studied Computer Information Systems and graduated in 2017. Jamal was selected to complete an IT Internship at Progressive Insurance, located in Mayfield Village, Ohio, in the summer of 2017. After the internship, he was offered a full-time position working as an IT Systems Engineer with the infrastructure support team. Feel free to reach out to Jamal about community involvement, sports and new technology.

Learn more about volunteering at United Way


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.


Setting the stage for servant leadership

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

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

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

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

Capitalizing on a surprise opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

Giving back through valuable public service

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

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

Reflecting on my time at United Way

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

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

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

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

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

About the National Urban Fellows

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

Join us for an evening of fun, philanthropy and food!

Augie NapoliIt’s that time of year when our children head back to school, the days become shorter and we start looking forward to all that fall has to offer our beautiful midwestern city. It’s also the time of year when we hold our annual campaign kickoff. This will be the second official campaign kickoff under my tenure; and as we have done with many other aspects of our organization during the past year, we’ve decided to transform the event to better reengage the community.

This year we’re changing it up from pancakes and taking a more progressive approach to celebrating our kickoff. As someone who holds Cleveland near and dear to my heart, I wanted to help showcase our great city in a less traditional way, while still convening our community members, donors and volunteers in our city’s epicenter to say thank you for your generosity, passion and dedication. After all, you are at the heart – the philanthropic pulse – of what makes United Way tick.

We want to celebrate the things we all love most about Cleveland – our community, our innovation, our willingness to change and the people who make Cleveland a city of greatness and goodwill!

As part of our new United Way, driven by our new strategic plan, we have shifted focus to two core priorities – the people we serve and the donors who make it possible to do so. This year’s event will be held at a fantastic location where Clevelanders can come together to celebrate this past campaign year, while enjoying the city and all that inspires them to give of their time, talent and treasure. What better place than Mall B in downtown where we have celebrated historic sporting wins and are surrounded by the sights and sounds of a respected and growing city?

This year our “Heroes in the CLE” event will honor those in our community who have not only supported United Way and our partner agencies, but have also inspired us to continue to focus on the bigger picture: helping improve the lives of our children, neighbors and community members to ensure that everyone has a healthier, safer and brighter future.

Please join our team, our Campaign Co-Chairs Beth Mooney, CEO of KeyCorp; and Chris Kelly, partner at Jones Day; and fellow community members on Mall B in downtown Cleveland on Thursday, August 31 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Mingle with fellow Clevelanders while enjoying food from local food trucks and music from DJ Ryan Wolf, helping kickoff this year’s campaign by reaffirming your promise to be a Hero in the CLE for those in need.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eaton holds 5k, wellness fair to raise money for those in need

It was a beautiful day for a run. On June 8, Eaton held a 5k run/fun walk at its corporate headquarters in Beachwood, Ohio. Roughly 250 employees participated and raised more than $2,700 to support United Way of Greater Cleveland. Along with the 5k, Eaton hosted more than 20 companies, including seven United Way Partner Agencies, for a Wellness Fair. Hundreds of employees stopped by the fair and were able to get information on various services and benefits throughout the community. The fair concluded with a short program where the winners of the race received trophies. United Way agencies were also able to speak about their respective services and the people they serve.

Eaton is a long time supporter of United Way of Greater Cleveland. Each year, they raise enough funds to put them in the top two employee campaigns in the region. This year, they are holding special events leading up to their kickoff that are geared towards United Way impact areas – health, financial stability, education and basic needs. Along with health, they will hold events around education and financial stability.

Their official employee campaign will kick off in August.

Thoreau Park Elementary gets new Reading Room

Sam Ameen HeadshotBy Sam Ameen, communications coordinator, Public Relations, Parma City School District

Thoreau Park Elementary Principal Jamie Franko was anxious to see the Reading Room the school was receiving from United Way of Greater Cleveland courtesy of the of Young Leaders and its Readers Become Leaders initiative. On May 12, the room was revealed to the students, faculty and staff.

“We’ve been really excited that we were given this opportunity. I’ve been really excited since they reached out to me in December and said that we were going to be the recipients of the room,” Franko said. “It totally went above and beyond my expectations for what I thought the Reading Room was going to look like.”
Readers Become Leaders Thoreau Park Elementary

The room has an outer-space theme and was furnished with comfortable places to lounge and read a book, such as beanbag chairs. The Reading Room was supplied with 500 books, which were donated by the Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank.

“It’s just another space in our building that really focuses on literacy and helps our students with early literacy and growing as students here,” Franko said.

Every student in the school was given a drawstring bag with two books, a coloring book, and crayons. The school also had a special visit from the Cleveland Browns mascot Chomps.

“Kids were saying this is the greatest thing ever, they were thanking the Young Leaders, the volunteers for everything that they’ve done and I think just really made their day and it has already impacted our building,” Franko said.

The Reading Room is located outside of Principal Franko’s office in the main hallway for ease of access.

Young leader showcases value of giving back

Note: United Way of Greater Cleveland is highlighting exceptional volunteers in our community that have went above and beyond the call of duty to make our region a better place to live.

Yasmeen MuhammadUnited Way of Greater Cleveland’s Young Leaders volunteer program is extremely active – with roughly 2,000 members of all walks of life, from ages 20-40 years old. Yasmeen Muhammad, a portfolio management associate at Key Private Bank Family Wealth, has been heavily involved with United Way’s Young Leaders program since January 2016.

She was asked by the previous co-chair of the KeyBank United Way Young Leaders to take her place in November 2015, because she knew Muhammad was active in internal networking and external philanthropic causes. However, she was exposed to United Way as an organization much earlier, when she was a part of KeyBank Foundation’s 2013-2014 United Way workplace campaign.

Muhammad says that she “really loved seeing the energy that everyone had around United Way… was impressed by the great staff, the rally of effort from the Greater Cleveland business community… helping United Way achieve fundraising goals.”

The Young Leaders volunteer group works diligently to plan and execute some of the year’s most exciting events; not only to raise money, but to raise awareness and garner greater excitement, as well as more motivated volunteers. “My favorite event is definitely the Annual Meeting – such a high energy event! The impact stories are very touching and it’s always exciting to see the final fundraising number for the campaign year.”

Beyond the Annual Meeting, the Young Leaders hold several of its own events to promote awareness and generate engagement in the community. Some of these events – several of which are award winning – include: the Annual Fall Ball; myriad networking events; a speaker’s series; days of action to give back; and many more.

She anticipates continuing, if not increasing, her volunteerism with the organization because of these, and numerous other events, as well as the core mission and vision of United Way.

“I volunteer because I love to help people and establish new relationships with people who are equally motivated to serve the community.” she adds. “… I feel like it’s the best way to make the widest reach of positive impact on the community.”

A viewpoint on volunteering from a corporate leader

Note: United Way of Greater Cleveland is highlighting exceptional volunteers in our community that have went above and beyond the call of duty to make our region a better place to live.

Jim Smith talks about National Volunteer WeekNational Volunteer Week is a way to thank those who volunteer and to build awareness for those who do not, and those who may be considering a volunteer stint. Jim Smith, a veteran at Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and acting VP, digital transformation & customer experience, is no stranger to volunteering.

He became involved with United Way of Greater Cleveland when he moved to the Cleveland area from his post in China last summer. “When you volunteer, it’s really personal… it’s a shared experience,” Smith says. “You’re giving something back to a group of people… It’s that personal contact with the people you’re giving something back to that’s meaningful.”

Smith goes on to talk about how volunteering not only makes one feel a sense of achievement and personal self worth, it also lends itself to professional development. He says some of the ways volunteering can manifest into the workplace is through leading groups of volunteers; learning and experiencing the challenges and successes of managing those people; and the planning and teamwork required to be successful. He always encourages people on his team who manage others to go out and volunteer in the community because those experiences are uniquely valuable.

He also mentions how many studies reveal that volunteering helps you live longer, healthier and happier, all while lowering stress. Smith sees this as a particularly appealing element that for him only enhances his desire to volunteer.

“United Way makes it easier to connect organizations to the organizations in need,” he adds. “You’re [United Way] is nationwide, which for us [Saint-Gobain] is good. We can volunteer with one organization, collect the stories and work together. There’s more need in the world than there is resources and if we can all do something then we can all make a difference!”