Most of us enjoy the benefits of a growing and prosperous Triangle, so it’s hard to believe that around 1 in 8 of our neighbors live in poverty. Our metro area ranks near the bottom (#88) among America’s largest 100 counties for social mobility, according to the National Equality of Opportunity Project. That means it’s highly likely that children born into low income families right here in our community will remain there.
A few years ago, our United Way answered the community's call that we should move towards focusing on social mobility. Increasing social mobility – and breaking the cycle of poverty for vulnerable children and their families – is our focus and should be a key concern for all of us, because long-term, the success of our neighbors is fundamental to the success of our community. In many ways, education sits at the core of that success. Yet, in the Triangle, 73 percent of children from low income families are not proficient readers by the end of 3rd grade. Starting this far behind means these kids have a 78 percent chance of staying behind far into adulthood.
We are a generous and caring community; that’s one of the qualities that makes the Triangle such a great place to live. Surely, it’s not in our nature to stand by and let the contributions of any member of our community be limited because of their socioeconomic status. A truly prosperous community is one in which all of its members have the opportunity to develop their potential and contribute their talents for the common good.
It’s in all our best interests to ensure that children born into poverty succeed in early education, and that their families are economically secure. At United Way of the Greater Triangle, our goal is to get more children on the path to success using a two-generational, collaborative approach to improve the financial stability of more families.
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In 2015, we took the bold step to shift our funding to non-profits, requiring collaborative partnerships that put families at the center of services. Non-profits responded and currently 24 collaborative partnerships of these agencies and others (like school systems or government agencies) are working to address social mobility. These partnerships take a family-centric approach to address the needs of both adults and children – because a child can’t learn if he’s hungry or is worried about where he’ll sleep; and a parent can’t provide food and housing without a job and transportation. Even the lack of diapers can keep a family in poverty, because no diapers means no child care, taking a parent out of work. This two generational approach – serving the needs of kids and their families – has been successful in other communities in breaking the hold of poverty on successive generations. And we’ve already begun to see progress here in our area.
Though historically, United Way has only been a funder, we have now expanded our role and we are a catalyst and partner at the table with non-profits in this collaborative, collective impact work. Achieving success takes a lot of time and effort. But each family that becomes sustainably, economically secure is a family that contributes to the improved well-being of our entire community.
We believe our community can mobilize around, long-term, sustainable change for people living in low-wealth households. A collaborative, two-generational approach to family success harnesses the collective power of our community’s human, intellectual and financial capital – non-profit agencies, funders, government, academia, business and individuals – working directly with children and their families to address their needs, and help them become economically secure.
Philanthropy is not about handouts; it’s about bringing resources to bear to address social issues facing our communities. It is about all of us. So while we recognize the progress our community is making, we can recommit ourselves to helping those in need, thereby making the Triangle a better place to live for all. Join in. Contribute to our United Way Changing Generations Fund. Volunteer. Together, let’s be changemakers in our community, #uniting4good.
Mack Koonce is president and CEO of United Way of the Greater Triangle.