For nearly 100 years, United Way of Summit County has worked to improve this community, galvanizing the efforts and contributions of generous people through workplace giving campaigns. That rich history has done an awful lot for the Greater Akron area. Beyond the hundreds of millions of dollars United Way has raised in that time, we have also celebrated our collective generosity and deeply instilled a culture of personal and corporate philanthropy in Summit County.
As I step into the role of board chair at United Way, I am deeply grateful for this rich tradition of generosity and love for community upon which we can build. It emboldens us as we embark upon a period of tremendous change.
During the past year, the United Way of Summit County has been hard at work to transform nearly everything in the way we do business, moving away from an identity as a fundraising organization and toward one as an agent for community change. We started by engaging the community. From the top leaders at our institutions to groups of neighbors and everyone in between, we asked the people of Summit County to identify our greatest shared challenges and opportunities.
This deep engagement, along with a comprehensive research effort, led us in shaping four Bold Goals for 2025:
• Goal 1: Increase third grade reading rates for Akron Public Schools students from 38 percent to 65 percent.
• Goal 2: Increase four-year graduation rates for APS high-schoolers from 75 percent to 90 percent, and increase college and career-readiness for these graduates from 21 percent to 60 percent.
• Goal 3: Financially empower 11,000 of Akron’s 42,000 working poor.
• Goal 4: Reduce emergency room visits due to drug overdoses from 2,400 to 1,000 annually.
These goals are indeed bold, stretching both the organization and the community at large to attack the root causes of our most pressing challenges. Yet I have confidence that we will succeed in this work for a few reasons.
First, the goals are informed not by anecdote or hunch, but by fresh data on our collective challenges. They give us clarity as to where we must concentrate our efforts in order to achieve maximum impact. The data also enable us to gauge progress in real time and course-correct as needed.
Second, we are driven by a powerful vision of success — a community where education propels children toward sustainable lives as adults, where adults once again can believe in the American Dream, and where we are freed from the scourge of the opiate addiction crisis.
Last and most important, we have an incredible coalition of generous people stepping forward to join in this work. Where we once had mainly fundraisers, we now have fundraisers and hand-raisers — people who will advocate, volunteer and give in order to achieve our Bold Goals.
I am honored to play a leadership role in this exciting work that is poised to change the face of our community. I invite you to be a hand-raiser, to join me and many others in a historic push forward for Summit County.
Mayer is the board chair of the United Way of Summit County and the president of the GAR Foundation.