August A. Napoli

President and CEOAnnual Community LuncheonSeptember 21, 2018

Thanks to all of you for being with us today and to the nearly 70,000 greater Clevelanders who supported the 2017/18 Campaign.

I would like to say a special word of thanks to our outgoing Board Chair, Marc Byrnes.

I have had the privilege to work with Marc over the past two and years, and I’ve seen first-hand how fortunate we’ve been to have Marc at the helm during this time of transition. Marc supported the significant changes underway with great thoughtfulness and energy and has been a true partner not only in this work, but out in the field as our most active advocate and fundraiser. Marc is fair and honest, enthusiastic, always positive and loyal to a fault. But when all is said and done, Marc is simply the nicest guy you’ll ever meet!

Marc, thank for your leadership. Your support and guidance along the way has been invaluable, but most all our lasting friendship means the world to me.

Also, with us today is my wife of 25 years and very best friend, Joan Katz Napoli; AND our pride and joy, our son Gabe. It has been said that United Way is a team sport and I would not argue that, but all of you should know that Joanie and Gabe are on the roster too and on behalf of all of us and me most of all—– thank you both, I love you.

When we gathered here last year, we announced a bold agenda. We said we were going to shake things up, just as this organization had done 105 years ago when our roots were planted as the nation’s first Community Chest, forerunner of the worldwide United Way.

Today, allow me to make our message even more clear: “Our aim is not only to relieve the symptoms of poverty, but to CURE it and, above all, to PREVENT it.”

If these words strike you as revolutionary, let me quickly point out that they did not originate with me. They are the words President Lyndon Johnson spoke when he announced the War on Poverty in his State of the Union Address in 1964.

And yet here we are, nearly 55 years later, and…

  • 43 million Americans remain in poverty.
  • More than 30 million adults cannot read, write or do basic math.
  • 554 thousand Americans are homeless.
  • Bringing the issue closer to home…
  • More than 36 percent of the people of Cleveland live in poverty and more than 18 percent live in abject poverty.
  • There were more than 11 thousand evictions in the Cleveland Housing Court last year.
  • Some 23 thousand people experience homelessness every year in Cuyahoga County.
  • 66 percent of Cleveland residents are functionally illiterate.

And as our friend Richey Piiparinen, director for Population Dynamics at CSU’s Levin College of Urban Affairs, recently pointed out… Sadly, Cleveland has some of the highest health disparities in the country. Life expectancy here varies by more than 20 years – 20 years! – depending on where you live in Cuyahoga County.

Even with this bleak picture, the War on Poverty did bring progress to our nation. In the decade following Johnson’s call to action, the national poverty rate dropped to its lowest level since comprehensive records began in 1958 – from 17.3 percent to 11.1 percent. Today, the national rate hovers at about 12 percent… but the City of Cleveland’s poverty rate, at 36%, is nearly three times that number. Think about that: Three times!

You might be inclined to take comfort in the fact that fewer Clevelanders are living in poverty than at any time since 2008 if it weren’t for the fact that our suburbs now account for a higher share of the county-wide population in poverty than at any time in the last five years. You don’t have to be a data analyst to figure out that poverty is spreading beyond the urban borders. It touches every corner of every county.

Poverty’s reach across our community hurts us all–socially, economically, culturally, morally.

I’ve come to realize that we need to take a step back, and look at this pervasive issue through the lens of 2018, but grounded in the beliefs of 1913 when United Way was born. United Way emerged from a call for “charity and philanthropy.” The dollars weren’t the focus. It was about understanding that our neighbors needed help and uniting, coming together to develop the best ways to help.

In that sense, we need to go back to our roots. It’s time for a reality check. Do we really understand the needs our community has today? And truly recognize the breadth of factors that so often keep generations of families from climbing out of poverty? Do we know what poverty really looks like?

On my desk right now is a stack of statistics that slices and dices the issue every which way. I have data points that paint a very detailed and dark picture of our city, our region, our state, our country.

But guess what? Those are just numbers on a piece of paper.

I didn’t really understand it until I was able to see and hear for myself. The stories of real people who want what we ALL want for ourselves and our families. It doesn’t matter who we are or where we come from. We ALL want a good job that can put a roof over our heads. Enough food to eat. And knowing we’ll be taken care of when we’re sick.

If you want to read the raw, unvarnished truth about some of our neighbors struggling to find their way out of poverty, please look up the series “A Greater Cleveland” in the Plain Dealer and on

There’s another pervasive dimension to poverty that we must talk about, and that is the racism, bias and inequity that contribute mightily to this blight in our community.

Racial disparities are documented, visible and undeniable. In America, if you are black, you are more than twice as likely to be poor than if you are white. In many ways, that’s the compounding effect generational poverty has had, particularly in our urban core but elsewhere too.

The day-to-day reality of racism is louder and deeper than any number on a page. It walks hand in hand with poverty, and it rears its head in housing, in employment, in healthcare and in so many other areas.

But too often, we fail to see and really understand the faces behind the statistics. Our perceptions of the victims of poverty are often deeply, tragically flawed. They’re born from misunderstanding, hatred or merely ignorance. No matter the origin, we must recognize and acknowledge that this exists as we work toward building the kind of understanding we need to achieve true commitment.

Please know that I’m not here today to guilt or goad. Or paint a picture of despair. As I look out into this room, I’m buoyed by the tremendous dedication of so many of you.

My faith in the commitment we share is never-ending. But I’m a realist

We know from experience that the problem isn’t just money. America remains the richest and most philanthropic nation on earth. And in Greater Cleveland, United Way’s annual campaign has done an outstanding job of meeting many of the basic needs people have right here and right now. And surely there’s no lack of brainpower here. The minds represented in this room alone are evidence of that. So there are resources and brainpower, yes. But the third and most important component is WILL.

Our realization at United Way if that we are to be true to our mission, we must also focus on the fundamental causes of poverty in our community.

The work of United Way and so many others in our community has been noble and fruitful. But we have lacked the level of self-reflection and the collaboration required confront poverty at its core.

Once we diagnose the totality of this complex problem, I know we can begin to cure it. The answers – plural – will lie in educated responses from human services, political and community leaders joining forces. The cure will lie in a deeper understanding of our community, and in our ability to come together as educated and committed partners. Coming together not simply to meet. But truly collaborating to produce, and to create. Clearly, we are smart enough to do that. But we need the will to make that happen.

We at United Way believe our community is up for the challenge. That’s why you have begun to see a new look, new language, a new attitude and methodology from United Way that goes beyond the formulas of the past.

This is a systemic re-examination … a soul-searching change in the definition of who we are, what we do, how we do it and WHY.

So many of our neighbors are on a disastrous course to a point of no return. Reversing that course not something that United Way can do alone. On the contrary, United Way’s strength lies in our ability to convene … to convene the brainpower and the resources represented by our best and our brightest. To convene and to create sustainable, life-changing solutions.

United Way is uniquely positioned to sound the clarion call that will marshal the resources of everyone from government to small business, from young professionals to committed philanthropists, and so many more.

We are willing to partner with others to work toward community-wide solutions that affect us all. The most visible and in my mind most successful example of a community coming together to DO BOLD THINGS TOGETHER–AND DIFFERENTLY–is occurring right now, and I am proud that the United Way is a partner in our city’s pursuit to become a Say Yes to Education city.

As many of you know, the Cleveland Metropolitan School district is on a journey of continuous improvement, transforming itself under the groundbreaking “Cleveland Plan” submitted by Mayor Jackson to Governor Kasich in 2012.

The Plan discussed educational reform in terms of “substantive and tenacious action,” and cautioned that “we must honestly confront what it will take to move our students to where they need to be.” It goes on to say that “this work must occur within the larger context of students’ too-often troubled environments. But these challenges cannot be used as excuses; excuses do not change outcomes. Rather, it is because our students face these challenges that we must create a transformed system.”

That is precisely the impetus for Say Yes to Education, a partnership with The City, the County, the CMSD, the Cleveland Foundation, College Now and the United Way of Greater Cleveland. All of whom are working together at a level of commitment, collaboration and trust this community has rarely seen. Because we recognize that this work cannot be done alone and cannot be ignored any longer. We also recognize that the hope of a college or post-secondary scholarship– of an educational pathway up and out of poverty– will be dashed IF the journey many of these students take coming from their “too-often troubled environments,” does NOT include wrap-around services and supports for these children and their families because of the daily challenges they face every day.

We at United Way are being true to our commitment to the needs of our community by aligning our investments in services and supports to this collaborative effort for the children, for the community, for the future. And I am proud to be a partner with Mayor Jackson, Eric Gordon, County Executive Budish, Ronn Richard and Lee Friedman.

Let me also tell you about FOUR significant initiatives that United Way is undertaking:


We know, of course, that public/private partnerships are not new to Cleveland. But we need to put a stronger shoulder to the wheel to forge a next generation vision. We know we must do everything in our power to draw more significantly on each other’s strengths. And so it makes sense that United Way, as the largest private sector funder, initiates substantive conversations with Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish since the County is the largest funding source of health and human services. We take heart in the handful of communities in the US like Seattle that are realizing the power of collaboration between the public and private sectors. And we know Cuyahoga County and the United Way of Greater Cleveland can be a standard bearer for a new and powerful paradigm shift. County Executive Budish is here with us today, so please recognize his leadership and our nascent partnership going forward.


We also know we can better utilize the support that over 60,000 greater Clevelanders each year provide through the annual UW Campaign as we respond to the basic here-and-now needs of our community–emergency housing, barriers to learning, transportation, job training and more.

So United Way will roll out this Fall what we call the “COMMUNITY HUB FOR BASIC NEEDS.”

This Hub connects our agency partners with one another to learn with, to collaborate and leverage each other’s talents and resources to meet the immediate, basic needs of those living in or on the edge of poverty.

The Hub is a formal, structured process about program alignment and better understanding of how to meet our community’s needs. And it gives United Way another opportunity to learn how we can more efficiently invest our resources to the most effective programs.

In this community we have so many non-profits aimed at the same general target–poverty–but each going about it in their own way, and on their own.

Isn’t it time we come together and organized ourselves to more efficiently and effectively serve those who turn to us for help?


We also know we need to think beyond the community’s daily needs. We need to think more broadly about the causes of poverty with a clear-eyed, clinical approach to this systemic illness. And so we are innovating a next-generation strategy to address the root causes of poverty. It’s called our IMPACT INSTITUTE.

The Impact Institute is a start-up accelerator that pools advanced talent and experience in our community — tapping leading organizations in government, academia, corporations, health and human services to tackle and work toward solving key issues. It’s a think tank with an action plan.

Within the Institute, we’ll identify and develop novel strategies designed to get at and solve the root cause of a specific issue.

These strategies will incubate ideas like any start-up begins, test and closely monitor their development to achieve proof of concept, and measure effectiveness at strategic points along the way.

The possibilities are endless and the potential for long-term change is there;whether it might be a unique living complex for single moms that provides education, job training, daycare and other services. Or perhaps an innovative partnership that marries skill certification, workforce training and wraparound services that more fully set people
up for success.

As I said-this institute’s purpose is to activate ideas with real, sustainable solutions that can propel people out of poverty.


Embedded in ALL our work in the Community Hub and the Impact Institute, is the issue of race, equity and inclusion. Not simply to identify the facts, which are clear and obvious, but to be intentional in the development of practical training and education focused on actions all of us–organizations and individuals-can take to alleviate these issues so heavily intertwined with poverty.

To that end, I am so very pleased to announce that as a first step in this work around race, equity and inclusion, United Way and its Federated Partner, the United Black Fund, are convening a cadre of significant collaborators. These partners will come together to create and test over time this important toolset. A number of them are here with us today.

I ask that these organization’s representatives please stand:

  • Asian Services in Action
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • Center for Community Solutions
  • Cleveland City Hall
  • Cleveland Public Library
  • Cleveland State University
  • The Diversity Center
  • Esperanza
  • Facing History and Ourselves
  • Fatima Family Center
  • Jewish Community Federation
  • NAACP (Cleveland branch)
  • Olivet Institutional Baptist Church
  • PolicyBridge
  • United Black Fund and
  • Urban League of Greater Cleveland

Let’s be clear: What I’ve outlined today isn’t just talk. It’s about taking small steps, but yes, it’s also about climbing mountains. Because our mission is to dramatically change the course of a culture that allows the scandal of poverty to persist.

That CHANGE begins with all of us…UNITED.

We must raise our voices together, align agendas and craft a model that works right here in our own community

United, we can do this.

After all, this is the community that established the UNITED Way.

We need the leadership, the passion and the WILL to get it done. Please
stand with us.

In all that you do, use your power — your position-your time– your talent–your influence and your treasure– to give voice to the voiceless.

THAT, my friends, is the true meaning of giving. The true meaning of charity and philanthropy.

Now more than ever, CLEVELAND UNITES.

Thank you for being with us today.