Changing the Trajectory of High-needs Families: United Way of Central Ohio

February 5, 2015

The County Health Rankings are based on a model of population health that emphasizes the many factors that, if improved, can help make communities healthier places to live, learn, work and play. In Columbus, United Way of Central Ohio is tackling many of the tough issues the County Health Rankings shed light on. 

However, as David Ciccone, Senior Impact Director for Health, explained, the Rankings do more than help the community understand the status of health. “The framework has been helpful for us in refining some of our strategies. We’ve also been fortunate to receive valuable counsel from program staff,” said Ciccone. This commitment to refining strategies and addressing all aspects of community wellness is helping to build a Culture of Health in the Central Ohio community.

The United Way of Central Ohio’s focus is “building pathways out of poverty,” a direction Dawn Tyler Lee, Senior Vice President of Community Impact, says has led to a more holistic approach to community improvement and wellness. “In our community we’ve enjoyed a lot of prosperity—job growth and economic development—but that growth and prosperity is not within reach of all families in our community. We wanted to play a role in ensuring that every family has an opportunity to thrive.” 

United Way of Central Ohio’s comprehensive strategy is inclusive of “home”—place based strategies that support safe neighborhoods and decent housing. Programs that create meaningful activities for youth, and the Neighborhood Leadership Academy—a nine month training for self-identified neighborhood leaders—are critical components of “home”. By working with partners such as The Ohio State University and Nationwide Children’s Hospital, United Way of Central Ohio has been able to leverage their resources to build and renovate affordable housing in the city's highest need neighborhoods. 

“This is an area of our work that makes me very proud. This impact area is important because it’s helping to change the trajectory of families in the city’s high needs neighborhoods,” said Lee.

Education outcomes

For United Way of Central Ohio, decent housing and parents’ financial security have a direct connection to children’s education outcomes. “If a family doesn’t have safe housing they find themselves having to move several times which disrupts students and the classroom,” said Lee. To reduce student mobility the Stable Families program offers financial assistance to help families stay in their homes. Once families are in the program, case workers provide financial literacy education and assess family needs for other social supports. This approach has resulted in more than 300 students being able to stay in their school unaffected by an unplanned move. 

Education initiatives are some of the United Way’s most significant investments. Since 2010, the Columbus Kids Initiative has evaluated more than 17,000 children for developmental issues that may prevent them from being kindergarten ready. Among the children screened and referred to additional programs, 60 percent showed improvement in their scores from one assessment to the next. 

 “I’d be hard pressed to find a parent that doesn’t want their child to be successful, but some parents don’t know how to make their child successful. We arm them with the techniques and tools that support continued learning even at home,” Lee said. Thus, United Way conducts home visits for at-risk families, and spearheads several parent engagement activities. 

Medical neighborhoods 

Just as the United Way of Central Ohio understands that education continues outside the classroom, they also understand that health happens outside of the doctor’s office. To that end, they are working to create a “medical neighborhood.” The initiative brings hospitals, social services, and community based organizations together in a clinical-community partnership to provide a shared referral infrastructure and the social supports required to improve health. The clinical and non-clinical partners combine to promote prevention and care coordination, as well as addressing community health needs.