By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer
Editor’s Note: While we focus on our work in the community and rarely shine a spotlight on ourselves, this series is designed to put faces and names to the great and challenging work United Way does every day.
Kara Porter, director of education in Community Impact, began her nonprofit career working on one of the toughest issues imaginable, at the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center (CRCC).
“My favorite thing about my job is being able to work towards systemic change,” she said. “One of the things I realized both working at CRCC and working here is that to really impact the services that individuals are accessing you need to be able to change the systems that those services are coming from. And United Way is well positioned to do that in a lot of ways.”
Porter said United Way of Greater Cleveland’s role as a funder enables it to relate to others at the county or state level and instigate larger changes, including the number of services offered and accessibility to those services.
“I also love that United Way is working on issues of poverty; that’s really, really important,” she said. “Cleveland is a great city but everyone deserves to be able to live in a city where they have opportunities for work and health and education and United Way is helping people to be able to do that.”
After attending high school in Mount Gilead, Ohio, Porter attended a three-plus-two program at Baldwin Wallace University and Case Western Reserve University, graduating with her master’s degree in social administration.
She said she wanted to be a counselor, working one-on-one with individuals using the social services which institutions like United Way of Greater Cleveland fund. But, during her first year of graduate school, she participated in the Cleveland Foundation Summer Internship program, where she worked on a project about public policy at CRCC.
“I realized, ‘Oh, this is what I want to do, not that other thing,’” she said. “Social work has that macro component where you can do more community-level work, and that’s what I realized I wanted to do.”
After graduation she moved to Lakewood with her husband, Paul.
Porter and her husband have two young children, an infant, Scott, and a five-year-old, Jack. She enjoys folk music and classic rock and used to play tenor saxophone in her high school’s marching band. She also likes drama, comedy and psycho-thriller films — when she’s not watching “little kid’s movies” with her sons.
Intelligence and integrity
Porter’s co-workers and supervisors describe her as a passionate and caring person.
Nancy Mendez, director of Community Impact operations, has worked with Porter since she started at United Way of Greater Cleveland three years ago, having hired her into her current position as education director.
“I feel very strongly about this organization and its work and it’s great to have individuals come in that have that same passion, with a mix of intelligence and integrity that she brings,” Mendez said. “It’s been a really great experience to have her as part of our team.
“Your first impression is always how nice she is — she’s a really down-to-earth kind of person — but the more you get to know her you start to see that strength in there that you didn’t see at first.”
Katie Foster, United Way of Greater Cleveland relationship manager, calls Porter one of her closest friends.
“I couldn’t think any higher of anyone than I do for Kara,” Foster said. “Kara really does her job with her heart,” she said. “She cares about Cleveland so much, she cares about the students in Cleveland, making sure they have the right education and the tools they need and that the families in Cleveland are successful. She cares about them not because it’s her job but because she actually cares about them.”
Porter said she wants to continue the policy-change driven work that has defined her roles at CRCC and United Way of Greater Cleveland.
“If you’re in an interview for a job, people are always like, ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ and I kind of hate that question. There’s so many unforeseen things that happen in five or ten years … But definitely working to make Cleveland a better place where there’s opportunity for everyone is where I see myself, one way or another.”