Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: National Area United Way’s Community Commitment

By Rosie Allen-Herring

United Way of the National Capital Area has been working on a new strategic vision to focus extensive resources on creating the highest quality of life and opportunity for communities throughout the region. This five-year, $10 million investment is called the Community Commitment and it’s focused on addressing challenges in the areas of education, financial stability and health of residents throughout the Capital community.

Over the course of the past several months, the United Way NCA leadership team conducted conversations with leaders in the most underserved areas of our region, as well as community members anxious for a leg up to lift them into opportunities to aid their rise into stability and success. The team found glaring gaps in essential services that could make the difference for so many of our underserved neighbors. The result is a five-year, $10 million dollar investment in our community to address these challenges. The Community Commitment’s value proposition is to identify the most pressing problems and bring the right partners to the table to move the needle, build lasting impact and achieve results.

The daily reality for residents living in the national capital area is that 30 percent of households do not have enough savings to survive for three months without income. For these households, a single emergency like the loss of a job could very quickly put them at risk of losing their housing. In fact, nearly 12,000 people in our region are sleeping in shelters or on the street at any given time. Looking across the region, one in six households can’t afford enough food. One in six children in Virginia, one in seven children in Maryland, and nearly one in three children in the District live in poverty. The challenges in our community are many, but so are the opportunities to collectively solve them.

United Way NCA’s Vision and Community Commitment Goals:

Financial Stability – to provide 100,000 residents with services that remove barriers to financial stability and affordable housing.
Education – to prepare 12,000 Title I middle school students (of high poverty schools) to transition to high school performing at grade level and on track to succeed.

Health – Recognizing that health is central to academic achievement and individuals’ and families’ ability to achieve financial stability, United Way NCA’s commitment is to embed health programs and partnerships in our work and act as strong proponent for public policies meant to strengthen the health of the communities throughout the region.

We’re already seeing results.

Through our community school model, we are bringing together partners to create results in the lives of students in our region. For instance, at Buck Lodge Middle School, 23 percent of students measured improvement in their grades in English with 66 percent of the students maintaining a C or better in these classes. 25 percent of students improved their grades in math with 56 percent of students maintaining a C or better in these classes. 26 percent improved their attendance rate and this is just one examples of the impact we’re making. As we expand the program, we anticipate seeing similar results for middle school students throughout our community.

We are working with partners throughout the region, such as Prince George’s Community College, to open Financial Empowerment Centers – one-stop shops to assist hard working people achieve financial stability with access to services like:

• Free tax preparation

• Financial coaching

• Credit and housing counseling

• Access to free or low cost banking products

• Budget management and;

• Entrepreneurial services

Since the fall of 2015, nearly 200 people have accessed services through our Financial Empowerment Center partnership with Prince George’s Community College. We are in the planning stages of the second Financial Empowerment Center and will be sharing details as soon as they become available.

This past October, we organized the DC region’s first Project Homeless Connect, which served nearly 300 people in our community who are experiencing homelessness. The one-day resource fair brought together nonprofit organizations and local service providers from across the city, who provided free medical, podiatry, housing services, identification, employment and other services, all under one roof.

The feedback from the community is encouraging the United Way NCA to be audacious about our goals and move to a community investment model focused on lasting and measurable impact. The simple truth is, we are no longer your grandmother’s United Way. Our commitment to our area is not to stop until we light a bright future for every one of our fellow neighbors.


Rosie Allen-Herring is president and chief executive officer of United Way of the National Capital Area.