United Way of Allegheny County aims to reach more children

| Sunday, June 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The United Way of Allegheny County is changing the way it does business.

In the past, the organization made grants to individual programs working alone and evaluated them on the basis of how participants were doing, said Alicia Chatkin, United Way's director of programs for children and youth.

It now encourages nonprofit groups to work together with government entities such as school districts to reach more children.

“We're looking at a larger number of children served. We're looking at an entire system being changed,” Chatkin said.

Nonprofit leaders say foundations and the Allegheny Regional Asset District are encouraging nonprofit groups to collaborate more.

“We have asked people and evaluated them on connections or collaborations,” said David Donahoe, executive director of the district. RAD supports parks, libraries, stadiums and cultural groups with half of the proceeds of an added 1 percent tax on sales in Allegheny County.

Since 2010, RAD has directed about $350,000 in “connections” grants to encourage groups to work together in addition to its usual support for operations.

In June, United Way awarded $2.4 million over three years for 15 children and youth programs that followed the standards. A separate group of United Way donors gave $700,000 for programs that helped women.

One of the programs, Everybody Graduates, will receive $185,000. The program helps about 800 students a year make up classes in which they received an F during the school year. It provides mentors and tutors after school. The lead agency, the Neighborhood Learning Alliance, is working with the nonprofit Bloomfield-Garfield Corp., Thelma Lovette YMCA in the Hill District and Pittsburgh Public Schools.

The program aims to reduce the school district's annual dropout rate, now at 35 percent. It's a figure so high that Stephen MacIsaac, executive director of the Neighborhood Learning Alliance, says people have become immune to it.

“If there's a tornado that hits, there's a call to action,” he said. “If there's a fire that hits, there's a call to action. We're trying to create a call to action.”

About 40 students work on computers in Allderdice High School where they can make up as many as 25 classes they flunked at their home schools. Tutors from Carnegie Mellon University are available to help.

Richard Craig, 16, of Hazelwood is making up four classes from his former parochial school. He said teachers there assumed the students understood the material and forged ahead, but he lagged behind classmates.

He enjoys the computer classes in the summer program.

“If you don't get it, the tutor will do one-on-one time with you and make sure that you get it,” said Craig, a senior at Allderdice.

United Way gave the Human Services Center Corp. $175,000 to help more than 500 students in the Woodland Hills School District.

The initiative offers a summer academic camp and after-school activities for elementary students, an emerging leaders program for seniors and a seventh-grade curriculum to prepare students for the workplace.

“The overall concept is to reduce the dropout rate and to encourage students from seventh grade that there is a pathway to a career in front of them by staying in school,” said Dave Coplan, executive director of the Human Services Center in Turtle Creek.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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