United Way of Summit County expands direct service programming as it sets focus on pandemic recovery

Jun 25, 2020

United Way of Summit County today announced that it is expanding several of its direct service programs in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. United Way’s efforts to promote long term recovery in Summit County include working with Akron Public Schools to open a third Family Resource Center in the fall, expanding 211 services and increasing capacity at its Financial Empowerment Center – created through a partnership with the City of Akron.

Family Resource Centers provide a safe, welcoming place in a school where parents and caregivers can get information, assistance and referrals to community resources. It connects students and their families – as well as members of the surrounding community – to health and social services, academic enrichment and more, so that students, schools and neighborhoods can succeed.

With the support of KeyBank and Huntington Bank, United Way previously opened two Family Resource Centers during the 2019-2020 school year – in Robinson Community Learning Center and Helen Arnold Community Learning Center. United Way is working with Akron Public Schools to identify a school to host the third Family Resource Center, set to open in the fall.

"The timing on this is fortuitous," said David W. James, Ed.D. superintendent of Akron Public Schools. "The onset of the pandemic has made family wraparound supports more important than ever. We greatly appreciate United Way and its ongoing efforts to help our students and families."

In the early days of the pandemic, United Way’s 211 service saw a dramatic increase in calls for help. During the two weeks following the first diagnosed case of COVID-19 in Ohio, calls to 211 surged 74 percent. Demand for food assistance rose sharply, and in March 2020, local 211 operators fielded nearly four times as many requests for nutritional assistance compared to March 2019.

Starting in March, United Way of Summit County’s 211 program partnered with DoorDash, the national food delivery app, to deliver free boxes of non-perishable food from local food banks to people at high risk from COVID-19. To date, 211 operators have scheduled 3,896 deliveries to local residents.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, United Way of Summit County has expanded its 211 program to operate locally 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In the past, the organization has contracted with another Ohio United Way to provide coverage outside of business hours. The expansion to full time local coverage will ensure that callers at all hours will speak to operators familiar with United Way of Summit County’s direct service offerings.

United Way’s response to the ongoing pandemic has been spearheaded by its Community Impact Task Force. In the past months, the Task Force, United Way’s Board of Directors, and its staff have worked to coordinate resources to meet the changing needs of the community. The suspension of some programs receiving funding from United Way – such as summer programs and those that involve large gatherings – has allowed the organization to shift funds to efforts focusing on pandemic recovery. Funding of basic needs-related programs has continued at 100 percent, and 37 programs continue to receive funding through United Way. In some cases, United Way has worked with funded partners as they adjust their programming to address issues related to the coronavirus crisis.

“This is a once-in a lifetime crisis for our community, and it is a rapidly developing situation,” said Jim Mullen, president and CEO of United Way of Summit County. “If we want to make sure Summit County comes out of this crisis stronger than before, we need to be ready to respond to the changing needs of our community”

As the economic effects of the pandemic continue to play out across the country and families face growing hardship due to lost jobs and reduced hours, United Way is working to protect the financial stability of local residents. Throughout the pandemic, United Way of Summit County has continued to serve clients at the Financial Empowerment Center (FEC), created in partnership with the City of Akron. Financial coaches have been meeting remotely with clients through phone and video conferencing to help them reduce debt, increase savings, create sustainable budgets and improve credit scores. With many Summit County residents facing lost jobs or reduced hours, the support of a financial coach has helped many residents weather the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic

In addition to long-term financial coaching, in May, United Way debuted “Ask a Financial Coach.” Summit County residents can call and get answers to their financial questions, such as how to access safe and affordable banking to receive deposits of economic impact checks.

In response to the financial difficulties many in the local community are facing, United Way is working to expand capacity at the FEC by hiring a new financial coach.

“Now, more than ever, free financial coaching services will be vital to the recovery of the Akron community,” said Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan. “Our citizens and businesses alike are dealing with unprecedented levels of economic hardship due to this pandemic, so having the ability to offer services to help citizens safely and effectively manage and recover from financial losses is pivotal in helping to buoy Akron’s economic health.”

“Because of this crisis, all across our community, people are suddenly in difficult situations they never expected to find themselves in,” said Mullen. “We want everybody in Summit County to understand that we are here for them. We are not just the United Way. We are your United Way. And whether you are looking for help or looking to make a difference in someone else’s life, we’re here to make it happen.”

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