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A Proactive Approach

Collage of diverse faces

At the Greater Akron Chamber's inaugural Inclusion Summit in September, a stark picture of disparity and inequity was painted: For every $100 white families earn, black families earn $57. Even more stark: For every $100 of wealth a white family accumulates, black families acquire only $5.

These figures, shared by Robert DeJournett, the chamber's vice president of opportunity and inclusion, stress the need for a more inclusive local workforce and economy, a need the chamber plans to address with its Elevate Greater Akron initiative.

Elevate Greater Akron is a collaboration among the chamber, City of Akron, and County of Summit that was created to improve economic development in the region as a whole, with a specific focus on improving opportunities for the black population.

"Akron's economy cannot succeed if this population – 31% of the city's residents and 12% of the region's – is not succeeding," wrote the chamber and its partners in a report introducing the initiative.

The data these organizations unearthed aligns with research Akron Community Foundation conducted through On the Table Greater Akron surveys, which compiled direct feedback from thousands of residents who participated in On the Table conversations, as well as a community needs assessment produced by The Center for Community Solutions.

All of these studies point to a clear conclusion: Racial equity and inclusion is an increasing concern in our community.

As Akron Community Foundation commissioned these reports and set the table for community input, its staff and board already knew a proactive grantmaking initiative would emerge. It was the issues the proactive grants would address that remained unknown.

But over time, the research revealed three major issues in need of funding: diversity, equity and social inclusion; the aging senior population; and drugs and addiction.

Unlike traditional grants awarded through the foundation's quarterly board discretionary cycles, the proactive grants were awarded to specific organizations and initiatives already working in these three focus areas. This strategy is designed to systemically improve a pending or growing crisis, as well as shape future trends.

With a total of $500,000 set aside for proactive grantmaking over a three-year period, Akron Community Foundation announced the first round of these grants in fall 2019, investing $225,000 into programs that address diversity, equity and social inclusion and the community's aging senior population.

Diversity, Equity & Social Inclusion

In the case of Elevate Greater Akron, an Akron Community Foundation grant of $100,000 will engage business owners of color and support the creation of a diverse supplier guide. It will also increase corporate awareness about inclusion and connect diverse job seekers with the nearly 20,000 unfilled jobs in the area.

"The resources provided in this grant will be specifically used to take action and shift the way in which the business community supports economic inclusion and embeds it into the work our companies do every day," said Steve Millard, president and CEO of the Greater Akron Chamber. "ACF's new focus on proactive giving leverages their insight on our community's needs and specifically engages the region's ecosystem of economic development and support organizations to help them address areas they see as having the biggest need and largest potential gains."

In addition, a $25,000 grant was awarded to the Women's Network to improve on key findings from its recent Gender Equity & Women's Leadership Study, which found that area women are significantly underrepresented in leadership positions, particularly women of color. The Women's Network recently forged a partnership with the Greater Akron Chamber to increase gender equity and inclusion in positions of leadership in Greater Akron.

Aging Senior Population

As another proactive priority, a $100,000 grant to Direction Home Akron Canton will support the Age-Friendly Akron initiative, which aims to make Summit County a more livable and accessible community for people of all ages and abilities over the next five years.

Age-Friendly Akron is a partnership among AARP, the University of Akron, the City of Akron, Direction Home Akron Canton, and the city's Senior Citizens Commission. More than 400 communities across the nation are members of AARP's Age-Friendly Network, a group of communities actively working toward making their region an inclusive place to live for residents of all ages.

"Age-Friendly Akron gave us the opportunity to look intensely at what's going on in our city in terms of various major domains, like transportation, housing, community engagement, volunteerism and educational opportunities," said Harvey Sterns, co-chair of the Age-Friendly Akron Committee and director of the Institute for Lifespan Development and Gerontology at the University of Akron. "We're interested in how to better coordinate all of our services, both civic and health-wise, in terms of how to optimize people aging and how to support caregiving and multigenerational interaction."

With the issue of seniors, Akron Community Foundation's grantmaking is looking toward the future, as the number of older adults in the community is expected to increase significantly in the coming years. As of the 2010 census, Akron had 40,000 people age 60 and older, making up 20% of the population. By 2030, this same group is expected to make up 30% of the population.

Drugs & Addiction

The third issue identified through Akron Community Foundation's research is one many in the community are aware of: drugs and addiction. According to data from the ADM Board, an estimated 1,200 Summit County residents entered a local emergency room after overdosing in 2018. Most of those who complete treatment relapse within 90 days, and 64% of people entering publicly funded treatment centers have one or more previous admissions.

At the time of the first On the Table Greater Akron conversations in 2017, the community was still reeling from the onset of the opioid crisis that hit in full force in the summer of 2016. Not surprisingly, the survey results showed that this topic was top-of-mind. In 2018, even as the rate of overdoses and overdose deaths were slightly improving, drug use and abuse still ranked as one of the top issues facing our community.

Proactive grants for this issue have not yet been established, as the community foundation is waiting on recommendations from the Addiction Leadership Council. In the fall of 2017, Akron Community Foundation approached the United Way of Summit County about developing a group focused on the identification, prevention and treatment of addiction in Summit County, and the Addiction Leadership Council was born early in 2018.

Composed of local elected officials, hospital presidents, health experts, and civic, nonprofit and business leaders who are leveraging their influence, the council quickly moved forward with collecting and evaluating data through the University of Akron and The Center for Community Solutions. This data will help the council set policy, create structure, and drive accountability for those operating in the addiction treatment and prevention domains.

"It is a rare person in our community who has not been touched by addiction, and though Summit County and the Greater Akron area are comparatively rich in addiction-related resources, our residents are drowning in a land of plenty," said Sarah Friebert, M.D., chair of the Addiction Leadership Council and director of Pediatric Palliative Care at Akron Children's Hospital. "The work of the ALC is to remove barriers and facilitate synergies among the many people, organizations and initiatives dedicated to this important work to position our community as a model of how to turn a devastating blight into a collaborative success story of prevention, treatment and recovery. No matter what drug or issue is the focus, addiction will be conquered by shining a light on stigma, removing silos and red tape, and creating seamless pathways. Proactive grant funding, together with public, corporate and philanthropic support, will build upon the good work that's already happening and catapult our efforts to slay the demon of addiction."

More Than Funding

"As a funder, we work with hundreds of nonprofits in the community and have insight into who, with the proper resources, can move the needle on key issues," said John Garofalo, Akron Community Foundation's vice president of community investment. "We're able to convene coalitions around a specific topic, working with dozens of providers to offer a systemic strategy of change through an entire chain of services."

This proactive strategy helps the community foundation make an immediate difference in people's lives, while advancing long-term solutions that will positively impact future residents, as well.

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