By Meghan Barp, president and CEO of United Way of Greenville County, and Jason Richards, United Way of Greenville County Board of Directors chairperson
There’s no doubt 2020 will go down as one of the most challenging years in recent history. A global pandemic has taken its toll on the health, economy and social fiber of our community. Many people and families are finding themselves deeper in poverty than ever before.
But many of the problems our neighbors face daily did not just suddenly arrive. Issues such as systemic racism and barriers to education, affordable housing, health care and support networks have plagued many in Greenville County for decades, limiting too many people’s opportunities to thrive.
Our community has also continued to grow and expand over the past five years, which is positive on many levels. But with growth come underlying issues that need to be addressed to ensure every person in our community has access to the resources they need to be successful.
At United Way of Greenville County, we’ve set bold goals for ourselves to help bring about real, meaningful change here at home. In order to reach those goals, we’ve had to analyze every part of our organization to ensure we’re maximizing each dollar invested by our donors.
For the past 18 months, United Way staff, along with our board of directors, have spent time reflecting on how our community has changed over the past five years. We studied research and data, reviewed our progress over the past five years and, most importantly, talked to our community.
Through these efforts, we determined we needed a deeper focus on economic mobility — the ability for an individual, family or group to improve their economic status. We identified key levers for change: education, financial stability and creating a vibrant and equitable community where a person’s race, class, gender or ZIP code doesn’t define their chance for future success. This will be the litmus test by which everything we do is measured, from the agencies we fund and the projects we support to the partners with whom we align ourselves.
We know from research from the Greenville Network for Southern Economic Mobility that Greenville County is one of the worst places in the country for children from poor families to rise out of poverty. That data, combined with a year where people are facing unforeseen job loss, increased need for emergency food and shelter, and lack of access to critical education, health care and transportation resources, means we must unite now more than ever to help our most vulnerable neighbors.
The way in which we fund, scale and build the capacity of our partners has also evolved to meet the current challenges we face. Based on our new guiding framework and commitment to our longstanding mission to help move people out of poverty, this year we recommended 67 organizations receive United Way funding, an investment of more than $3.7 million across Greenville County.
Thanks to the generous support of our donors, we are proud to be able to make these strategic investments in our community. This support will help create change where it’s needed most. Working together with our partners, we must do all we can to increase economic mobility and educational opportunities for marginalized, disconnected communities and reduce social and economic barriers so that all who live in Greenville County have access to opportunities to thrive.
Through a global pandemic, continued racial injustice and growing national division, 2020 will be a year we will never forget. How we respond will shape our community forever. Our new investment strategy is just one step in United Way’s response to shaping a better future for all who live in our community.
Another critical step on this journey is the generous support of our community. Without it, none of this work is possible. Now, more than ever, we need your support. Because we are stronger united.