Greensboro United Way aims to be change agent

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Ninety-two percent of boys in grades three through five at Wiley Elementary School in Greensboro who received mentoring last school year through a pilot program launched in December by United Way of Greater Greensboro in partnership with Communities in Schools of Greater Greensboro passed their end-of-grade math test at the end of the school year.

That compares with 38 percent of all students in the school who took the test two years ago and passed that test.

The mentoring partnership is part of a larger effort by United Way to make an impact on some of the region’s most urgent health and human services needs.

As it kicks off its annual fundraising drive, United Way is focusing on partnership initiatives to help increase academic performance and grade advancement for children, improve health literacy, and boost the financial stability for individuals and families.

The emerging strategy aims to “develop a collaborative vision for the long-term economic success of our residents,” says Keith Barsuhn, president and CEO at United Way. “Our primary focus is collaborative efforts for community change.”

Chaired by Harold Martin, chancellor at N.C. A&T State University, the campaign aims to raise $11 million, up 3.5 percent from nearly $10.7 million it raised last year.

Raising money, Barsuhn says, is a strategy to support the larger effort to improve lives for vulnerable people.

Collaborative initiatives in that effort, known as the Blueprint for Lasting Change, will have specific community goals, with performance tied to specific metrics, such as the percentage of students passing the end-of-grade test.

All those initiatives will be rooted in building the capacity of partner agencies that provide volunteers to work with clients.

United Way, for example, aims to invest $1.3 million for a community-wide mentoring program, known as Mentoring Matters, that is based on the pilot last year at Wiley Elementary, which also included boys in second grade.

A second initiative will focus on Thriving at Three, a program launched in 2006 that works to ensure that children from birth to age 3 receive the care, parenting and support they need.

That community-based program works with families in the Claremont Courts neighborhood, and in the Latino community, in partnership with the Greensboro Housing Authority and Greensboro Public Library, including an early-literacy project launched in July, known as Raising a Reader.

For the pilot project at Wiley Elementary, which also included boys in grade 2, Communities in Schools matched nearly 50 mentors with young boys.

United Way is developing a new health literacy initiative in partnership with the Cone Health Foundation.

And it is developing the new economic success effort in partnership with the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro to help families develop more financial stability.

That effort will be part of Greensboro Works, a larger partnership the two agencies are leading to connect people who need better jobs skills with opportunities for training and jobs.

“The  resources you need for this work, whether they be dollars, volunteers or advocacy work, are the strategies to achieve those community-change goals,” Barsuhn says.

“We want to have a fierce focus on setting community-level change goals,” he says. “That’s the measure that we think is important if we’re having an impact in this community. It’s not just about achieving fundraising goals.”

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