United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania is partnering with a dozen local organizations to focus on the academic and social needs of kids.
Since the five-year United for Children plan was announced in December, the organization has chosen local agencies to receive funding, volunteers and business support to help an estimated 300,000 children.
“Part of it is providing funding to agencies and community leaders working towards a common goal, such as improving attendance or trying to figure out to change or policy or a system to be more efficient,” said Julie DeSyn, United Way’s Vice President for Community Impact.
Nearly 50 agencies applied for the program and those chosen offered services specifically tailored for children, such as mentorship or academic support.
“Agencies are coming to us because they see solutions to problems they would like to address, and they see us as a critical partner,” DeSyn said.
But it could take more than five years to address complex issues such as mental health, school attendance and youth fitness. According to DeSyn, long-term solutions come in the form of innovative business models, increased monetary support and collaboration among organizations.
“While we recognize this is a priority for the next five years, we feel pretty confident that United Way will continue to want to support the work of non-profits that support children long term,” said Human Services Center Corporation (HSCC) Executive Director Dave Coplan.
HSCC is one of the organizations partnering with United for Children. Coplan said his agency asked for support in order to maintain its pre-existing initiatives, such as its summer program and workforce development program aimed at teens.
“Those three programs reach hundreds of kids and align with the goals of the United Way’s allocation for children,” he said.
More specifically, HSCC plans to use the extra funding to improve learning spaces, maintain to their “Kaboom” playground and advise high school seniors.
Another education non-profit partnering with United for Children is Higher Achievement. Executive Director Wendy Etheridge Smith said her organization will be able to continue work in mental health and anti-bullying, serving roughly 400 children in Homewood and the Hill District.
“As hard as we work and as strong as our individual organization is, because of the nature of the challenges that are facing children in communities where they attend schools that are at significant academic risk, we can’t change their trajectories on our own,” she said.
DeSyn said United Way assessed the top needs of children by conducting research every five years through ongoing consultations with the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development, as well as business and community leaders.
“We have this unique position of being not only a funder, but having partnerships with really active corporations in this community,” DeSyn said.
She said the program’s success is determined by evaluating students’ attendance, standardized test scores and graduation rates. Additionally, mentorship programs provide insight of well-being and emotional maturity.
By involving all levels of the community and pooling resources, DeSyn said she hopes to redefine attitudes toward service.
She said she wants potential volunteers to say, “Hey, this is happening down the street from me, and I can make a difference.”