A century of strength

The United Way of Summit County’s bold goals signal another 100 years of critical support

How often do you stumble across an idea that worked for business 100 years ago and still works for business today? Our community is celebrating one such idea this year: the United Way of Summit County.

Our United Way, initially named the Akron War Chest, was established on March 9, 1918, with a staggering contribution of $1 million from the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. On the heels of this leadership gift, other key business leaders stepped forward with contributions of their own. The private sector leaders of 1918 joined forces to ensure that the place they called home could care for its people in a time of crisis, as World War I raged overseas. The business leaders of the day understood that the health and vibrancy of their home community paid real dividends. A strong Akron meant a strong workforce for their companies, customers who could afford to buy their products and a place where they could build a future for their enterprises. In short, community-based corporate philanthropy was smart business.

It’s an understatement to say that a lot has changed since 1918. Forget the mind-numbing pace of technological change in the past decade alone; when you look all the way back to 1918, you’re in an era that predates the proliferation of the automobile, the television, even the telephone in most homes. It is easy to see how a shared information utility like the United Way was essential back then. It would have been an impossibly heavy lift for each business to engage independently in thoughtful, considered philanthropy, to gain understanding of community needs and of the organizations meeting those needs. Investing in a centralized group that could fulfill this role made all the sense in the world.

Fast forward to 2018. Today, all businesses and individuals have at their fingertips the power to research community needs and the nonprofit providers that address them. One could question the need for a United Way in such conditions. What is its relevance 100 years later?

The United Way of Summit County has answered this question with powerful clarity. In a time when there is an overwhelming array of causes business can support, United Way has, with robust input, asserted four Bold Goals to be achieved by 2025:

  • 65 percent of Akron Public Schools’ third-graders reading at or above grade level.
  • 90 percent of Akron Public Schools’ high-schoolers graduating in four years, with 60 percent college/career ready.
  • Financially empower 11,000 people.
  • Reduce emergency room visits due to drug overdoses to 1,000.

The Bold Goals target our community’s most pressing issues and its most powerful opportunities. They unite a coalition of well-intentioned citizens around a shared agenda that will strengthen Greater Akron. And they focus our attention, our resources and our collective brainpower on driving true community success.

A century into its journey, the United Way of Summit County stands on the shoulders of many generous leaders and blazes a trail into the next 100 years of community prosperity.

Christine Amer Mayer is president of the GAR Foundation, which awards grants to 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations in Akron in the areas of education, economic and workforce development, arts and culture, basic needs, and nonprofit sector leadership.