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Summit County's United Way Plots its New Course

United Way of Summit County is looking to change history -- both Summit County’s and its own.

The non-profit is going from coordinating the county-wide appeal for charitable giving, to running non-profit programs itself.

As he begins his second year as president, United Way of Summit leader Jim Mullen says, “We are moving from an organization that focuses singly on a metric of success based on fund raising, into an organization that is centered around impact and return on investment -- and how we get our partners with us to make systematic change in our community.”

He says comprehensive conversations with the local supporters and partners have shown that they are looking for measurable progress in solving the historic problems arising in Summit County from poverty.

That means expanding the United Way’s historic mission to include direct action to improve education, health care and the other fundamentals of a successful community particularly in inner-city areas of Akron.

There are five primary issues.  And, though they are county-wide, the emphasis for action will be in the county’s core -- the economically hard pressed inner-city of Akron.  The issues are:

  1.  More than half of the children under 18 in Akron live in poverty;
  2.  Eleven out of every one thousand babies born in Akron die before their first birthdays;
  3.  Thirty-nine percent of Akron children are obese or overweight;
  4.  A quarter of Akron school children are not reading at grade level;
  5.  A quarter of Akron high school students do not graduate in four years.

Mullen told the organization’s annual awards gathering Tuesday at the John S. Knight Center in Akron about the move beyond fund raising. And in an interview with WKSU following the event, he said, this new emphasis on action will energize support for the United Way, especially among its biggest contributors. 

Summit County's United Way Plots its New Course
Jim Mullen, President of United Way of Summit County

 “Our corporate partners are the ones driving this change. The majority of companies have the same interest:  a healthy community where their employees and their families can thrive. And so for our corporate partners this was a ‘you’re doing good things, but what’s the next level’…that mutual benefit partnership instead of that transaction of we’re just going to them and asking them for money.”

Mullen said United Way of Summit County will continue to both assess community needs on an ongoing basis and confer with its partners and stake holder to further its new “active” agenda.