By Jim Mullen
Published in the Akron Beacon Journal and on Ohio.com
Anyone who has spent more than a few days in Akron and Summit County over the past year can tell you that change is in the air. We have seen change at City Hall and in the leadership of many of our anchor institutions. We have seen change in our neighborhoods — some of them reinventing themselves in exciting ways, others crumbling with continued disinvestment. Change is energizing to some, terrifying to others and a healthy dose of both to many of us.
But as a community, we have reached a point where we simply must take a deep breath and embrace the change — in all the fullness of its promise and uncertainty. We cannot deny the new world in which we find ourselves. While we are rightly proud of our past — of Akron’s track record as a resilient city that has reinvented itself and dodged disaster amid economic change — we can no longer rest on our history and declare our community to be better than some others or “good enough.”
Because when we are honest and look closely at where we are, we see that we are not good enough. When 52 percent of our children in the city of Akron are living in poverty, and 39 percent of kids under age 18 in Summit County are obese, we are not good enough. When 27 percent of Akron Public School students are not reading at grade level in the third grade, and 26 percent do not graduate high school in four years, we are not good enough.
When 11 of every 1,000 children in Akron are dying in infancy, we are a very long way from good enough.
You may notice that most of these statistics refer to the city of Akron. While United Way is a powerful force for change across Summit County, the data reveal a stark truth: The greatest need in the county lies right in its core, in the city of Akron. Because we believe that success for the entire county is impossible without a healthy core in the city, United Way will focus a fair amount of its work on addressing the needs of the core.
To do this, the United Way of Summit County must be seen as more than just an annual fundraising campaign. As we approach our 100th anniversary in 2018 and begin the next chapter of our story, we must focus on strengthening our partnerships with a wide variety of stakeholders — from corporate and governmental leaders to residents who love this community. Together, we will embrace the change that our challenges demand from us.
We will transform our organization into one that focuses not just on how much money we can raise for the community, but more on how every dollar is leveraged for greater impact within it.
That is because we at United Way envision the core of our community as a place where all children flourish, where active minds keep pace with nourished and active bodies and where families thrive from an abundance of employment opportunities. Our team will live and breathe this vision every second of every day.
We invite you to join us as we reimagine an Akron and Summit County where every child and every family has a fair shot at a healthy, prosperous, fulfilling life. Join us as we reimagine United Way.
Find out more about United Way’s new vision plan, along with ideas on how individuals and organizations can help assure the plan’s success, at www.uwsummit.org/reimagine.
Mullen is the president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Summit County.