United Way's 'Uniting for Education' Campaign Launches with $1Million Gift from Erie Insurance

Friday Jun 7th, 2024

On June 7, 2024, to secure the Community School Model for this and future generations, United Way of Erie County today announced a $1 million donation from Erie Insurance and kicked off the public phase of an ambitious endowment campaign and special impact project -- the addition of Erie High as a Community School -- to help sustain the organization’s transformational social impact work. The announcement was held with nearly 60 supporters and community leaders at Erie Insurance’s Event Center at the Firehouse. United Way’s Community School Model is a long-term strategy aimed at eliminating the nonacademic barriers to learning children attending public schools face. The ultimate goal of the Community School Model which has been implemented in 16 public schools across four school districts, is academic success. 

United Way President Laurie Root shared, “United Way’s focus on eliminating nonacademic barriers children living in poverty face is simply too important to be subject to annual fundraising fluctuations and uncertainty. Our community’s children attending public schools deserve no less. That’s why we are committed to raising the funds necessary to infuse endowment earnings for our most critical work, the Community Schools Model. Public schools should be a desirable choice for all students, no matter what ZIP code they live in. Together, we can gift the opportunity of academic success for all children.” 

The funding campaign entitled Uniting for Education: Going the Distance, was launched in July 2023 with a significant investment from The Erie Community Foundation through a $2 million Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Transformational Philanthropy Grant. The funds will specifically be used to launch the Community School Model at Erie High School.  

Adding Erie High, the seventeenth United Way Community School, is a special impact project that is part of the overall Uniting for Education campaign. Since that announcement of The Erie Community Foundation grant, additional corporate and individual donors have stepped up to lay the seeds for the Uniting for Education campaign. 

In announcing Erie Insurance’s $1 million donation toward Community Schools, company President & CEO Tim NeCastro emphasized that he believes the United Way’s Community Schools Model is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty in our community. 

With funding from Erie Insurance and other community partners, United Way will hire community school directors for Erie High School and provide inside-the-school support that includes health, vision and dental care, clothing and personal hygiene items, family engagement opportunities and expanded learning time and enrichment programs. 

“Lisa and I both grew up in Erie, and both came from families of modest means. We may not have had a lot of money growing up, but we had strong role models and supportive family members who taught us, challenged us and set us on positive paths that led us, in many ways, to where we are today,” said NeCastro who is co-chairing the Endowment Leadership Cabinet with his wife, Lisa. “Sadly, too many children grow up without the support system we were fortunate to have. That missing piece in children’s lives can many times turn into a massive divide – one that holds them back and essentially cuts off their path to a promising future.” 

Leadership Cabinet co-chair Lisa NeCastro added that the Community Schools model “levels the playing field” by helping to remove barriers many children face that prevent them from being successful in school. 

“These aren’t intellectual challenges or behavioral issues that are holding children back. These barriers start with a lack of basic needs that we all take for granted: food, clothing, personal hygiene and safety,” Lisa NeCastro said. “These are challenges children here in our community face every day, but these are challenges the Community Schools Model are helping to solve.” 

In addition to Erie’s Public Schools, United Way has implemented the Community School Model in the Girard School District, Iroquois School District and Union City Area School District. The organization has set a goal to grow the model in these school districts and beyond but cannot do that without the sustainable and stable funding stream the endowment will help establish. 


Founded in 1914, United Way of Erie County (United Way) served as a charitable funding conduit functioning as a pass-through fundraising entity and directed funds to a select number of agencies in the community. That changed in 2017. Why? A staggering 27% of children in Erie County live in poverty, one of the worst rates in Pennsylvania and well above the national average. 

The futures of our children and the entire community are at risk. That’s why organizational leadership recognized the urgent need for dramatic change. Since that time, United Way embarked on a journey to transform into a social impact organization that leads efforts to break the cycle of generational poverty. 

 How? Education. Education. Education. United Way know the focus has to be on increasing student academic achievement to reach this bold goal because success in school equals, undeniably, success in life. 

Since its launch, the powerful equity strategy known as the Community School Model has expanded to serve more than 8,800 students and their families in 16 schools across four districts in Erie County. Community schools are in areas of extreme poverty, targeting our most vulnerable youth and aiming to level the playing field for their success in school and in life. 

We are seeing results and the promise of more children growing toward academic proficiency with every year. But this is not a quick fix and requires a long-term commitment from the entire community. Below are a few examples of what is happening in our public schools as a direct result of the Community School Model. 

The strategies are broken into four key pillars in the Model. 

1. POSITIVE ENVIRONMENT FOR WELLNESS AND LEARNING: After hitting a peak of unexcused absences during the pandemic, one community school (Strong Vincent) decreased their number of unexcused absences by 43%. 

2. EXPANDED LEARNING TIMES AND ENRICHMENT OPPORTUNITIES: At Edison Elementary, one out of every four students participated in afterschool programming during the 2022-23 school year. 

3. AUTHENTIC FAMILY ENGAGEMENT: In the first three years of the Model, on average a community school sees a 55% increase in family engagement. 

4. COMMUNITY AND NEIGHBORHOOD PARTNERSHIPS: Across United Way’s 16 community schools, there are 80 programs offered by 39 community partners. 

These four pillars work together toward academic growth leading to academic proficiency, the ultimate goal. 


To learn more and contribute to United Way’s Uniting for Education endowment campaign please visit:

Uniting for Education