Young Leaders unite to help reduce low-income achievement gap in Greater Cleveland



Guest blogger, Spencer Dieken is AVP, Corporate Banking Associate

Relationship Manager at PNC. He is a member of United Way of Greater Cleveland’s Young Leaders cabinet.

“If you are born poor, you tend to stay there.”

If that sentence made you uncomfortable and inspires you to take action, you have something in common with United Way of Greater Cleveland’s Young Leaders.

There’s no denying that we have a low-income achievement gap in our region. In the Cleveland area (which includes Cleveland Metropolitan School District and surrounding districts), third grade math scores were on average 27 points lower for economically disadvantaged students than their wealthier peers, according to a 2013 study by The Center for Community Solutions. In practice, this difference represents approximately two grade levels. Research shows that this achievement gap widens with age, as evidenced by the 24-year difference in life expectancy detailed in a 2012 documentary contrasting the experiences of residents of inner city Hough and suburban Lyndhurst, two neighborhoods separated by only 8.5 miles.

Statistics like these provided the motivation for the Young Leaders cabinet to narrow our focus and formally define our “Community Commitment.” Simply put, we want to eliminate the low-income achievement gap in Greater Cleveland.

It’s a simple statement for an incredibly complex and challenging issue, and it’s going to take every ounce of our advocacy, volunteerism and fundraising efforts to affect meaningful change. In our first year, we plan to partner with specific CMSD Wraparound Schools and neighboring agencies to support programs focused on matters such as summer learning and tutoring in kindergarten through fourth grade. Our goal is to create long-term relationships with the schools and agencies, and we are currently in the midst of strategically selecting partners with a long time horizon in mind. We’re excited about this work and will share more details soon.

United Way of Greater Cleveland’s Young Leaders group currently has a membership base of more than 2,000 young professionals and 12 active corporate chapters. In order to make progress, we’ll need everyone working towards this goal. If you would like more information, or to learn how you or your organization can become more involved in Young Leaders, please contact your United Way representative, sign-up to receive more Young Leaders email communications or email

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