Unwrapping Generosity: United Way’s Holiday Impact on Child Well-Being in Greater Atlanta

December 18, 2023

Original Op-ed posted in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Friday, December 15, 2023

Children laughing while opening presents. Warm meals shared with loved ones. Twinkling lights draped above porches and across streets. These are just a few vignettes shared by many of us for the holidays. A time when we share joy, celebrate, reflect on the past year, and make our resolutions for the future. For nonprofits like United Way, it’s also an important moment in time when the spirit of generosity can truly impact the lives of those in need. Holiday giving provides us the fuel we need throughout the year to give every individual, child, and family across Greater Atlanta a place to call home, warm meals, and opportunities to follow their dreams.

As a kid growing up in New York, every Christmas seemed to be picture-perfect. Just like the songs say, it always snowed. I would unwrap my presents from under the tree and whether it was a pogo stick, skateboard, or bicycle, my face would light up with excitement. It was time to try them out. The snow had other ideas and my joy would fade for a moment knowing the weather had planned for me to stay indoors. I was, however, able to look forward to the spring when I could join my friends and ride around the neighborhood together. As I sit here today and think about my young self during this time, it also makes me think about the children who don’t – or won’t – have memories like that to look back on.

During the holidays, more than 25,000 families looking for help will have reached out to United Way of Greater Atlanta. It is a stark reminder of the challenges faced by many in our community in a season branded by abundance and joy. Our data shows the headwinds of inflation, housing affordability and the lingering, disparate impacts of the pandemic still sweep through the streets of the 13-counties we serve.

Most non-profits receive more than a quarter of their revenue in December and few days are marked with greater giving than December 31. As we turn the corner on the year, people’s generosity and the power of one individual to make a difference becomes clear. United Way of Greater Atlanta has experienced this surge in local goodwill for nearly 120 years. When donors unite, this time of reflection becomes an opportunity to propel impactful initiatives into the future.

Over the past year, with the support of more than 200 partner organizations, we have harnessed resources to battle those headwinds by increasing the learning skills of more than 90,000 children. We’ve prepared more than 26,000 youth for futures they can look forward to through our College and Career investments. And more than 45,000 families’ living situations were improved thanks to intentional programming to build generational wealth and community resilience. It’s a lot to be proud of, but we know that no number can capture the value of our mission. Those numbers are our neighbors, after all.

We recently sat down with a group of elementary school students to ask them what it means to be a neighbor. Their answers were hallmarked with references to kindness, friendship, and being supportive when it matters most. As we step into 2024, our hope is to care like these kids, and to continue to show up for our neighbors as resourced, connected, skilled community leaders.

Our neighborhood is a big one, with more than six million people calling it home. Five years of data gathering and evaluation has given us a roadmap to improving child well-being with census-level focus and impact.

We are actively addressing challenges in child well-being with a targeted approach. Our Child Well-Being Index identifies 79 communities facing pressing issues in children’s health, wellness, and education. Despite proximity to thriving families, these areas lack essential resources, prompting intensified investments and programs to counter disinvestment and historical inequities, particularly affecting families of color. Urgency is evident, with over 77,000 children at risk. We’re also addressing a looming workforce shortage by connecting over 14,000 excluded teens to job opportunities through collaborative efforts. Our focus extends to ensuring equitable education access and highlighting critical learning milestones threatened by pandemic learning loss. The enduring impact of remote learning and the absence of traditional educational support systems jeopardize our community’s long-term health.

As we look to the new year, we look to long-time supporters and a new generation of young Atlantans to rise to the challenges of our community. Half a million children live in areas of low child well-being where the basics we take for granted are unavailable, and that’s not acceptable in any season. Atlanta’s largest companies are joining the chorus of givers this holiday season. Through December 31, Delta Air Lines will be matching all donations up to $100,000, allowing us to do twice as much good with the gifts you bring. Take action this holiday season and support children, families, and communities in need. Together, we can make a powerful statement that they deserve the opportunity to thrive and can look forward to a brighter tomorrow.

It's Give United Day!

Today your donation goes further with a dollar-for-dollar match up to $100,000 from generous friends including KMPG and PwC.