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A message to the Erie Community

For far too long, the barriers to learning for Erie County children living in poverty have been ignored or addressed through a “band-aid” approach. This is unacceptable. We, as a community, cannot be simply reactive anymore.

If our community is serious about stopping the cycle of poverty, we need to make hard decisions and change what we know has not been working. That is why three years ago, United Way of Erie County made the decision to be BOLD with its 2015-2018 Strategic Plan.

To more effectively impact systemic, social change, United Way’s Board of Directors unanimously agreed to move away from funding individual agencies and programs to funding intentional partnerships working together under the collective impact model to achieve goals of student success from birth and family stability.

United Way’s purpose is to improve our community; not to support individual agencies working in isolation from one another. While we applaud the work of all local nonprofits, the challenges we face require a level of cooperation and collaboration beyond what any single organization can accomplish.

In December 2017, United Way announced this transformational shift in its impact strategy. As a follow up to that announcement, we want to share with the Erie community answers to questions relevant to this new strategy.

We invite you to join us in being part of the solution - focused on giving the children and families dealing with low-income barriers everyday a hand up instead of a hand out. The result will be a better quality of life for ALL of us.


As part of the 2015-2018 Strategic Plan, United Way is transitioning from the traditional role as a fundraiser to a collective impact organization. This means instead of simply funding organizations doing good work in “pockets” throughout the community, there is now a razor focus on systemic change to holistically address the full range of barriers children and families in Erie County experience.

Sometimes, we as a community, do not realize our youngest citizens are fighting an uphill battle. Our kids want to learn. They deserve to learn. But, far too many can’t because they face far too many barriers before they even walk through a school’s front door. For example, many kids do not have the opportunity to participate in quality early learning programs, so by the time they start kindergarten, they are already behind. Unfortunately, many never catch up.

Others are exposed to a wide range of traumatic experiences that have far reaching effects like mental and behavioral health issues. By not addressing why a student is missing school or why they are disrupting their classroom and providing the appropriate support, we are leaving even more children behind.

There are also kids living in Erie County who can’t learn because of something as simple as a toothache or the fact they cannot see the words printed in a text book.

These barriers, and many more, are what United Way is working to address through the expansion of Community Schools – a collective impact approach to organizing school and community resources around student success, as well as the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. In addition, United Way is aligning additional resources to support other countywide initiatives strategically aligned to address our community’s most pressing needs.

Why is united way making these changes now?

Now is an exciting time for our community - we are literally at a crossroads. We can either continue doing what we have always done or we can move beyond the inertia of the past and into action for the future. Promising initiatives in Erie County are beyond the “just talking about” stage. The Erie Downtown Development Corporation. The expansion of ERIE Insurance’s campus. The Erie Innovation District. Investment by our health systems. A focus on supporting local entrepreneurs. The list goes on…

For these promising initiatives (and others on the horizon) to be successful we need to invest upstream and we need to do it NOW. By collectively working to make sure children learn and succeed in school, we can ensure they will become the workforce of the future to take full advantage of the significant investments being made in our community.

WHAT specifically will united way funding support starting july 1, 2018

View United Way of Erie County's Complete Funding List

Can i still designate my united way donation to a specific organization?

Absolutely. United Way will ALWAYS honor a donor’s designation regardless of whether the organization receives a United Way grant or not.

who can i talk to about additional questions?

  • If you are a donor, email United Way Senior Vice President, Laurie Root:
  • If you are an organization with funding questions, email United Way Vice President of Community Impact, Mike Jaruszewicz:
  • For any other questions please contact United Way President, Bill Jackson: