RAVI RESPETO, PRESIDENT & CEO UNITED WAY OF GREATER CHARLOTTESVILLE
We’ve done some soul searching this past year that has led to some big changes. Everything from renaming and rebranding the organization to the United Way of Greater Charlottesville, to refining our areas of focus, to having difficult and clarifying conversations about our responsibility to our community and the impact that we want to have on its members and structures.
What came to light is that it’s time for us to be more focused, more intentional about the type of organization that we want to be, and how we carry out our mission of connecting the community and enabling individuals and families to achieve their potential. For us, it boils down to one thing: poverty. Poverty is the nucleus of many of the other challenges our community members face. With the poverty rate in Charlottesville at nearly 25% — a number that hasn’t moved in 10 years despite strong regional economic growth — one in four of our neighbors is struggling to meet basic needs. They can’t afford a reliable vehicle to get to work or continuing education to secure a higher-wage occupation. Many cannot afford high-quality early childhood care and education, and as a result, their children fall behind. Once children begin to miss these benchmarks in early childhood, they rarely, if ever, catch up, thus perpetuating the cycle of generational poverty that disproportionately plagues minority communities.
The big question we ask ourselves every day at 806 E. High Street is “what does any of this mean, operationally?” More pointedly, how does any of this data move from the realm of the theoretical to the actual hard work of creating sustainable positive change? In a community that is among the hardest in the country to advance financially, what are we doing today, tomorrow, and over the course of the coming years to ensure that we are giving individuals and families the best opportunities to live financially stable lives?
Concentrating on school readiness, financial stability, and connected community, we are aggressively pursuing opportunities in grantmaking, partnerships, and direct service offerings to start to make a dent in our unacceptably high poverty rate. By addressing the symptoms and attempting to understand and confront underlying and systemic causes of poverty, we find ourselves better-equipped than ever to face what many may consider an insurmountable task.
But we aren’t ones to shy away from a challenge.
We know we can’t do this work alone. It is imperative to build broad and diverse coalitions across community members and partner organizations in order to affect demonstrable change in this area we work, play, and in which we raise our children. Our leadership in organizing and providing backbone support to the Early Education Task Force and Financial Stability Task Force provide good templates for expanding our work with key partners. We also understand and feel deeply the primacy of this work, and that given our reputation and experience, we have a responsibility to help be a driving force in the creation of communities where every person can thrive, regardless of race or ZIP code. We approach this work humbly, not with the complex of saviors, but as those respectful of the unique and significant opportunity to help lift those around us.
We can’t do this work without your help, and we hope that you’re inspired to join us