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United Way Bay Area

United Way: Disrupting Bay Area Poverty Daily

Posted on March 14, 2017, by Eric McDonnell in Latest News Featured Poverty

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I grew up in poverty, living in public housing, facing the everyday challenges of making ends meet. Like a debilitating illness, poverty can rob an individual, a family, and a community of material, mental, and emotional hope.

United Way’s campaign to end poverty is important to me personally, because I know the struggle. Professionally, I am blessed to be in a position to give back and help break the cycle of poverty that exists in our community.

Why United Way?

Although the Bay Area is the home of innovation and wealth, sadly, it is also the home of 1 in 4 residents living in poverty – struggling each day to to put food on the table and a roof over their family’s heads. Through its poverty cutting programs, United Way is working hard to disrupt poverty and create pathways to financial sustainability and self-sufficiency.

Here are just a few highlights of what we accomplished in 2016:

  • United Way’s free tax preparation program, Earn it! Keep it! Save It!, deployed more than 3,000 trained volunteers to 255 sites across the Bay Area and completed 80,000 tax returns which resulted in $83 million in total refunds. Over the last 15 years, UWBA has helped generate $660 million in refunds for Bay Area residents.
  • The Mayor’s Youth Jobs+ Initiative created more than 6,000 opportunities for youth (ages 16-24) to receive jobs and internships. In the last five years, more than 30,000 opportunities have been produced.
  • Since the first center launched in 2009, SparkPoint has served over 20,000 Bay Area residents. Last year, 80 percent of SparkPoint clients reported making progress with their financial goals.

Who is United Way Helping?

These statistics represent real positive change in the lives of real people. People like Joe.

Joe came to SparkPoint Solano with a poor credit score and child support debt. Over the last year, Joe worked to repair his credit score (nearly 700 now), paid off his child support debt, and attended Parent University. He also obtained a credit card and has nearly paid off his automobile payments. Joe connected with our local Family Resource Center, has secured a place on the Section 8 housing list, utilizes a holiday meal program (run by the Family Resource Center), and has received backpacks from SparkPoint for his two daughters. Joe has become so enthused about SparkPoint that he is happily sharing his story and he’s a vocal champion in regards to the services he has received in Solano county.

I also recently read an article on sfgate.com that explored the challenges of making ends meet with the escalating costs of living in the Bay Area. It highlighted the fact that the cost of purchasing or renting a home and the costs associated with purchasing goods and services, have all increased significantly over the past five years across the country, with particularly high spikes in the Bay Area. In 2016, housing costs in the Bay Area increased by 18%, rental costs increased by 14%, and the cost of milk increased by 22%.

The article highlighted the challenges a couple with a household income of more than $1 million per year are facing living in San Francisco. The narrative of this couple’s financial challenges made me appreciate the following:

  • Wealthy families were also adversely affected by the financial crisis
  • If the wealthy members of our community have been negatively affected, those living in poverty -- especially those who have been trapped in generational poverty -- are impacted even more adversely
  • The poverty fighting work of United Way Bay Area is more important than ever

How Can You Help?

I hope the economy continues to improve for everyone (for Joe and the couple in San Francisco referenced above). However, with the wealth and income gaps continuing to widen, I’m glad United Way Bay Area is helping lead the fight to cut poverty in the Bay Area. Join me in creating access and opportunity for the most economically challenged as I encourage every Bay Area resident to pitch in and help us with this very important work. Give. Advocate. Volunteer.

Learn more: uwba.org

About Eric McDonnell


As Executive Vice President and COO for United Way Bay Area, Eric McDonnell provides strategic, transformational, and operational leadership to achieve the organizational goals. He sets priorities and delivers on the organization’s mission. He drives United Way Bay Area’s efforts to ensure that every child has the opportunity to reach their academic potential and families achieve economic self-sufficiency, while making Bay Area neighborhoods a safer place to live. McDonnell is a committed and passionate advocate for children, families, and communities.

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