Good Place Akron

Be the Change, LIVE UNITED:

United Way of Summit County
Part 1 of 2

By: Katie Sobiech

Can you imagine the change that could take place not only in this city, but in the world, if people united themselves more often for a good cause that brings forth movement and change? Not just temporarily, but consistently? Not just a one time drop-in, but a week after week, month after month commitment? Great change could take place.

The United Way of Summit County (UWSC) provides the opportunity to make that change possible through many realms of service; their focus being education, income and health.

“Our mission is to improve lives in Summit County by mobilizing community assets for health and human services,” said Michael Gaffney, APR, Vice President of United Way of Summit County.

The UWSC seeks to build the community by offering many different types of services and funding many different organizations. They support the Battered Women’s Shelter, OPEN M, United Disability Services and Big Brothers and Sisters of Summit & Medina Counties, to name a few.

They also have their own initiatives, including Born Learning, Community Re-Entry Program, Neighborhood Leadership Institute of Summit County, Project Blueprint and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

Beyond Fundraising

“Most people think of United Way as an organization that raises money and gives it to other non-profits. That’s certainly a large part of our identity, but we’ve tried to expand that over the last few years and think about the assets in our communities; facilities, people, volunteers, time, effort, brainpower…So we make sure to do the best we can to raise that money and make it available to our affiliated agencies and other non-profits in our community,” Gaffney said.

Most people give to the United Way through their Workplace Campaign, where a company agrees to run a campaign and do payroll deductions.

“This makes it easier for folks to be more generous,” Gaffney said, “It would be hard for me to write a $500 check right now, but if I were to say ‘Yeah take $10 out of my paycheck each week, I won’t go to lunch one day this week or I’ll skip a trip to Starbucks or something, I can afford to do that’.” And these donations go directly towards the need the giver is most concerned about.

“For those who are most interested in issues that affect children, we support the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and Big Brothers and Big Sisters. For those interested in health related issues, we’re supporting the visiting nurse service, YMCA, and all of those organizations. It’s whatever you are passionate about,” Gaffney said.

Volunteer Center

Volunteerism is just as important. The Volunteer Center encourages volunteerism in the community while providing opportunities for volunteers to serve throughout the year. The center connects volunteers to non-profit organizations.

“We have projects for you to get behind at the volunteer center. If you want to get involved tell them what your passion is and when you’re available and they’ll put it in the database and give you opportunities,” Gaffney said.

Every May they hold a Volunteer Celebration in honor of and to celebrate volunteers.


Latest Developments

As of right now Gaffney says one of the biggest issues in Akron is financial stability for families.

“People are finding themselves in need of help for the first time,” he said, “So many people are calling saying ‘I don’t know what to do, I’ve never had this problem before. I’m out of work, my wife’s out of work, we’re about to get our heat shut off.”

The United Way of Summit County works with Info Line on these issues.

“Helping these people get on their feet, figure out what to do, and making sure they don’t find themselves in this situation again is important,” Gaffney said.

Another key issue is focusing on school readiness for children.

Neighborhood Leadership Development Institute

Through the month of January volunteers are being sought out for the Neighborhood Leadership Development Institute, a 10 week program, that will teach people how to become an advocate for their neighborhood. Up to 24 men and women from neighborhoods throughout Summit County will be chosen to participate in the program which will start up at the end of February.

Classes offered will cover a variety of topics including criminal justice, communication and engagement. Leaders will learn a variety of skills including how to serve as an advocate for their families and communities, how to find and utilize resources and how to work with government agencies and social service providers.

“We want them to understand how the system works and that they need to go to city council meetings, take advantage of the media, and know how certain things work and how they can get change made. We want them too ask themselves, ‘How can I be that person for my neighborhood?’”

To be continued…

For more information on volunteering please contact the United Way of Summit County 330-762-7601