8 minute read

Making the Possibilities Endless for Youth in South Lorain

For Monica Snipes-Martin, children are the future. Snipes-Martin is the project director of the 231Go! Community Collaborative, which is powered by United Way of Greater Lorain County in partnership with El Centro de Servicios Sociales, Inc. This critical work–influencing our next generation of leaders–is the most rewarding job, she says.

Snipes-Martin is a Lorain native and a mother of five who has experience working with children of all ages, but she finds herself drawn to a particular age group.

“What I think is special about the collaborative is it focuses directly on middle school students,” she shares. “In middle school, students are still trying to figure out who they are. All five of my kids were completely different. And they’re highly misunderstood at that point in their lives.”

Working with middle school students can be challenging, but for Snipes-Martin, the challenge is worth the payoff when students find who they are in life.

“If you can find out what is in a child’s heart, that will lead their head to go to a positive space. It’s that transition that is special, to see a child really grow into who they are and discover who they want to be.”
231GO! student shows off work
photo courtesy of United Way of Greater Lorain County

The 231Go! Community Collaborative borrows its name from the census tract encompassing South Lorain. It is also a play on the time that school lets out–2:30 p.m.–after which students immediately “go” out into the neighborhood, and safe, positive activities are needed.

The official mission of the collaborative is to motivate middle school students living in Lorain's 231 census tract to be engaged in learning and avoid risky behaviors through useful roles in the community–leading to success in work, college, and life.

Local community advisory councils suggested that United Way focus on this age group because research shows that the middle school years are critical developmentally, and there is a correlation between positive engagement in these formative years and life success.

Specifically, South Lorain was chosen as a neighborhood of focus because only six percent of the adult population has a college degree or technical/skill certificate, while 42.9 percent of households are living in poverty. In addition, a disproportionately large number of middle school students are living in this census tract as compared to the rest of the city, and there is a high concentration of residents for whom English is their second language, which can act as a barrier to receiving needed services.

Despite the challenges, the South Lorain community is strong and proud, where everyone looks out for each other, and the presence of El Centro provides backbone support as the trusted neighborhood hub.

“One thing that I love about the Lorain community is that we really treat each other like family,” says Snipes-Martin. “One of the things that resonates with everyone is the need for us to protect our youth and look out for them.”
Students rehearsing for dance performance with 231GO!
photo courtesy of United Way of Greater Lorain County
“From the steel mill and other businesses closing, to a shift to where people live, and people moving out of the city, it’s really affected this part of town. Without 231Go!, South Lorain would have very little for middle schoolers to do. There’s football and basketball, but there’s very little else to do for those with artistic and creative minds. At 231Go! we cover all those things. We allow kids to be artists, musicians, dancers, and athletes too.”
231GO! students posing after ballet performance
photo courtesy of United Way of Greater Lorain County
“Our collaborative builds community by being all-inclusive and making everyone feel welcome. Our staff is diverse and bilingual, which means if English is your second language, you can still communicate.”

231Go! is one of ten Community Collaboratives powered by United Way of Greater Lorain County as part of the agency’s Collective Impact approach focusing on cross-sector collaboration to tackle complex social issues in Lorain County.

Collective Impact is an emerging trend in philanthropy that brings people together, in a structured way, to achieve social change. The approach ensures all partners have a common agenda, establishes shared measurement between the partners, fosters mutually reinforcing activities, encourages continuous communication, and invests in sustained support of a lead—or backbone agency to facilitate the collaborative.

Not only does this strategy rely heavily on traditional nonprofit agencies, but it also leverages United Way’s longstanding relationship with local corporations and includes public and faith-based organizations in the process as well. This unique approach allows the partners to create a business plan focused on meeting the need for the community versus working toward the same goals in isolation of each other– and sometimes competing against each other for scarce funding. Instead, partners can align their services, eliminate duplication, and fill in gaps to become more efficient and create more sustainable results.

United Way takes this approach throughout all of Lorain County, focusing on kindergarten readiness, middle school success, chronic disease prevention, and emergency financial assistance for low-income working families.

Volunteer delivers Rising Titans literacy kits to children in Lorain
photo courtesy of United Way of Greater Lorain County

United Way has over 150 partners in Lorain County working together within the ten Community Collaboratives. Specifically to 231Go!, United Way coordinates six local organizations–El Centro, Lorain City School District, Lorain County Community College, Lorain County Public Health, Lorain Metropolitan Housing Authority, and the South Lorain Block Watch–that are working together to improve the lives of middle schoolers in South Lorain.

“Our partners play a vital role in our collaborative as they share their unique strengths and resources,” says Snipes-Martin. “And other United Way collaboratives play a vital role in our collaborative too as we’re able to learn best-practices from what they’re doing in other parts of the county.”
Dee Hamilton fills a box of school supplies at United Way
photo courtesy of United Way of Greater Lorain County

One thing they’ve learned: it’s best to not teach what the adults want the kids to learn. Instead, the collaborative starts by listening to the kids, making sure they know how important they are, and developing activities that help them pave a positive path toward their future.

Each of the partners provides programming to the students enrolled in 231Go! at shared neighborhood sites, making it easier for the kids to have access to critical developmental resources and reducing the amount of unsupervised time kids are spending between school ending and returning home.

Kyle Maurer volunteers sorting school supplies with his son.
photo courtesy of United Way of Greater Lorain County

Programming includes tutoring and mentoring, tech and STEM courses, summer camps, bike safety, cooking classes, ballet classes, and more.

“I can honestly say the kids determine the direction of the program,” says Snipes-Martin. “So, if we get a group of kids who are interested in drawing, we do an art program. When we found out the kids love to cook, we partnered with the OSU extension office and LCCC to do a culinary arts program.”
Student participating in cooking activity with 231GO!
photo courtesy of United Way of Greater Lorain County

And it’s working. Students who have attended the 231Go! summer camp are 2.5 times more likely to be enrolled in college-bound classes in high school than their peers county-wide.

The collaborative also works to engage parents as well. Family engagement nights are scheduled regularly throughout the year, and during the pandemic, the pandemic, 231Go! launched the Padres Complimentidos class, which works with Spanish-speaking families to teach tech skills in support of their children’s remote learning.

“A lot of times parents feel excluded and don’t really get a chance to see what their child is engaging in. We welcome families,” said Snipes-Martin. “When we have a speaker, the parents are invited to come too, and we do family nights intentionally so the parents can participate with the youth.”

It’s not just about receiving services for the students enrolled in 231Go! Giving back and taking pride in their community is also a core part of the curriculum.

“The kids love to participate in the programming, and then they love to volunteer too. They appreciate what has been given to them from the community, and they are quick to give back because they want to reciprocate to share with other families what was given to them,” says Snipes-Martin.
Volunteers clean up the Hot Waters area in Lorain
photo courtesy of United Way of Greater Lorain County

People in the community have an opportunity to support this important work by donating to United Way of Greater Lorain County, and there are volunteer opportunities to support the work as well.

Want to lend a hand?

MAKE A GIFT

The possibilities are only endless because of the generosity of our community.

When you become a donor, you’ll join a network of people who care about Lorain just as much as you do.

uwloraincounty.org/give

GET INVOLVED

Sign up for the “Volunteer Blast” and get emails as new volunteer opportunities become available or join an upcoming Volunteer Network Tour to learn about ongoing volunteer opportunities.

uwloraincounty.org/volunteer

GIVE BIG, SHOP SMALL

Small businesses are both the foundation and the future of Lorain.

Check out our Small Business United partners in Lorain, where you can give back while supporting a local business. Interested in joining us? See the link below!

          Ariel Broadway Hotel

          Brass & Bronze Foundry Bar

          Fresco Bistro

          Speak of the Devil

uwloraincounty.org/smallbusinessunited

Volunteers sort books in United Way's Engagement Hub
photo courtesy of United Way of Greater Lorain County
“To the funders and donors to United Way and the 231Go! collaborative, your money is truly going to change a child’s life,” exclaims Snips-Martin. “I absolutely feel like our program opens doors that normally would not be opened and gives kids connections to things they might not know they have an easy connection to.”

Because of Monica and the 231Go! Community Collaborative, kids in South Lorain are discovering that the possibilities are endless.

To see more about Monica and the work of the 231 Go Community Collaborative, view the video here: https://youtu.be/L4rOisiz2-0