‘What’s next?’ | United Way stakeholders share stories, perspectives

Doc Huffman

Doc Huffman

Gary Huffman, campaign chair

Gary T. “Doc” Huffman, this year’s campaign chair for United Way of Greater Cincinnati, gets emotional telling the story of a woman he met at a Price Hill clinic.

“She was pregnant and being treated by a doctor who volunteered there,” he recalled. “And they were giving her vitamins and medical care, but they knew that it wasn’t going to do any good. She wasn’t going to have a healthy baby if they couldn’t get her food.”

The staff and volunteers figured out a way for her to have food, but then shared with Huffman their concerns: What about employment? A place to live? Care for her baby as well as preschool someday?

“I had never thought of poverty that way,” said Huffman, who is chairman, president and chief executive officer at Ohio National Financial Services. “You can’t just put a Band-Aid on a cut and hope to solve poverty.”

That story, which he shares with many others he meets, energizes Huffman as United Way embarks on its annual campaign, the sixth-largest in the nation, within a community in which one in three cannot make ends meet.

“What’s next?” Huffman asks both in terms of individual need and in terms of Cincinnati’s reaction to the reality of poverty. Among his questions: Where will an evicted, unemployed parent find a place to live? How can an underprivileged teen learn job skills? What will a hungry toddler eat?

Citing the work of the Childhood Poverty Collaborative, Huffman said several answers have emerged to the “what’s next” question, and he said United Way will tailor its work in innovative ways to put those answers to work.

For example, United Way is providing staffing for an employer roundtable Huffman said can assist companies in finding ways to support employees on issues such as stable employment, advancement, insurance and retirement planning. If many employers focus on these issues and see how they lead to a stronger community, Huffman said things can be different.

“I am making CEO calls every day,” he said. “And I’m finding that people just don’t know the facts. But they do know that Cincinnati is a big, caring community. They know that we have to do something.”

United Way’s transformation, Huffman said, stands on the shoulders of its earlier “Bold Goals” which focused on education, employment and health. “But we can see what is holding us back is poverty,” he said. “And changing that requires one-on-one family coaching.”

And as chair, Huffman emphasized that the entire community benefits by making Greater Cincinnati stronger.

Poverty, Huffman said, “doesn’t just affect a few. It impacts us all.”

Steve J. Shifman

Steven J. Shifman, board member

United Way board member Steven J. Shifman, who is CEO and president of Michelman Inc., says the emphasis on addressing poverty could not have come at a better time.

“It is exciting to me to see so many well-meaning people putting their shoulders to the wheel to attack this problem,” he said. “We are willing to say the word ‘poverty’ out loud and work together to address it.”

Shifman said part of his enthusiasm comes from the diversity of individuals and groups involved in the conversation: volunteers, educators, faith communities, agencies and people who have felt the real impact of poverty.

To broaden that base of support, United Way is taking a different kind of approach, one Huffman has embraced with the story of his encounter at the health clinic.

Kyla Woods

Kyla Woods

Kyla Woods, storyteller

Kyla Woods joined United Way as its storyteller. She said telling stories that resonate with the community can help everyone understand that the people involved could be “your sister, your child, your co-worker, the woman you see every time you go to Kroger.”

She said many of those who receive services from United Way-funded agencies want to tell their stories “to help the next person who comes along … They know that it takes generosity for this work to happen, and they want to show how they have overcome” an obstacle to find some kind of success.

These stories, Woods said, will be shared not only in United Way presentations but also through a more active digital presence, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

“We want to get the entire community engaged,” Woods said of United Way’s efforts. “We all play a part” in sharing stories of personal adversity and triumph.

Roni Luckenbill

Roni Luckenbill

Roni Luckenbill, partner agency

Roni Luckenbill, chief executive officer of Girl Scouts of Western Ohio and a member of the United Way board of directors, sees powerful energy behind United Way’s new approach. “It’s been so exciting to watch the transformation and to know that it will transform our community,” she said. “It’s all about working smarter together and making sure all of our services can help families in a better way.”

In Girl Scouts, Luckenbill said girls in every ZIP code are experiencing poverty. The program has adjusted, thanks to United Way funding, to serve those girls in nontraditional ways.

Luckenbill said sometimes it just takes another way of thinking.

For example, she said, a parent who is stressed about being able to put food on the table won’t volunteer to be a Scout leader, so the school-day programs are led by Girl Scout staff. Doing these programs at the girls’ schools eliminates concerns about transportation. And in communities where interest is lacking, staff members reach out door-to-door, filling a Spanish-speaking troop, for example.

“Being a Girl Scout can be life-altering,” Luckenbill said. “For some of our girls, being part of Girl Scouts is the first time they see more than the situation they are growing up in.”

Kay Geiger

Kay Geiger

Kay Geiger, board member

Kay Geiger, regional president of PNC Bank, Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, sees the United Way’s concentrated effort to break the cycle of poverty as crucial.

She said United Way and PNC have learned, through their collaboration on the Success By Six and Grow Up Great early childhood programs, that children are much more likely to break the cycle of poverty and become our future leaders if they get a strong start in life through home visiting and quality preschool.

“In spite of many strong efforts to date, we have not improved opportunities for our poorest neighbors,” she said.

“We have not yet ‘cracked the code’ on how to change the systems that create and keep people in poverty so that they can be the fully contributing members of this new economy.

“That’s why bringing together a wide range of stakeholders to form the Collaborative Steering Committee for listening to the community, learning from others, and working across disciplines and interests toward a common goal is so powerful. We have a real chance to impact the root causes of poverty and the trajectories of the lives of our neighbors.” 

Stories That Unite Us: 2017 Campaign Kickoff Breakfast

Thursday, Aug. 24, 7:30-9 a.m., Duke Energy Convention Center

Kick off the 2017 United Way of Greater Cincinnati campaign with chair Gary “Doc” Huffman.

  • Discover how United Way is leading the change to improve lives and communities across the Tristate
  • Celebrate the transformative work of United Way in Greater Cincinnati
  • Hear powerful firsthand stories of impact and transformation


Refocused United Way takes aim at the persistent problem of poverty

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