Another week, another merger

Two United Way education nonprofit agencies, one dating back to 1875, will combine operations.

A neighborhood-based resource center currently for four schools, Families Forward, will become a division of Learning Grove, which operates 16 top-rated child-care centers and a career readiness program for middle and high schoolers. 

The boards of the two organizations approved the merger Aug. 22, continuing a growing number of recent local nonprofit mergers. Easterseals and Redwood combined in July, Community Matters and Education Matters merged in June and St. Aloysius and The Children’s Home came together in February.

“By joining with Families Forward … we will be able to offer critical services for a true cradle-to-career continuum” said Shannon Starkey-Taylor, CEO of Learning Grove. 

Shannon Starkey-Taylor

Learning Grove is only about three-years in the making – a merger itself between the roughly $10 million Children Inc. agency dominant in Northern Kentucky and the approximately $5 million Cincinnati Early Learning Centers education agency leader in Cincinnati.

Families Forward, which organized in 1875 as the Ohio Humane Society providing protection to animals and kids, will add another $1.2 million in revenue to Learning Grove. Financial stability was the reason the organization started looking for a potential partner even before the pandemic froze its core services. Nearly 40 percent of Families Forward’s 2021 revenues came from two sources. The agency’s most-recent audit said it would have enough resources to continue through 2022.

Families Forward just completed a leadership transition, seeing its longtime leader Deborah Mariner Allsop retire in June. She became CEO of Families Forward in 2007 after retiring from the United Way of Greater Cincinnati following a 29-year career there.

H. Michelle Toney

H. Michelle Toney, who had been named Families Forward’s interim executive director in March and took over the top role July 1, had joined Families Forward as a program manager in January as part of Allsop’s succession plan. Toney will join the Learning Grove executive leadership team. Prior to joining Families Forward, Toney spent 20 years at Brown Mackie College, most recently as vice president of academic and student affairs.

Currently, Families Forward provides after-school programs at Bond Hill Academy of Math and Science Discovery, Carson School, Hays-Porter School and Withrow University High School.

“This merger is about impact,” said Starkey-Taylor. “Together, Learning Grove and Families Forward can make a significantly greater contribution to the success of children and families in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.”

Toney said the support from Learning Grove will create stability for Families Forward.

“The only change that will occur with the partnership, is that our programs will be enhanced due to more back-end support and more families will have access to them,” she said.

Both organizations will continue operating under their current names, logos and brands. No job or program changes are contemplated, the organizations said.


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