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In Dallas, Complex Issues Require Dedicated Partnerships

United Way of Metropolitan Dallas tackles income, health, and education for the city’s young people—but it doesn’t do it alone. This story is part of a series on the innovative ways that 2016 Youth Opportunity Fund community partners, supported by America’s Promise Alliance and the Citi Foundation, are placing low-income young adults on a path to career success.

The United Way of Metropolitan Dallas looks at problems in the same way it approaches solving them: Everything is connected.

The organization’s mission is to tackle issues of education, health, and income in the Dallas area, and it works with businesses, governments, nonprofits, schools, families, and individuals to do it.

Take its Skills to Succeed program, which teaches soft skills to high school students through a nine-week afterschool program. They partner with the nonprofit City Year to run it, and they work with a separate parent engagement program, PASE (Parents Advocating for Student Excellence), so parents can learn how to better engage with the school system and make sure their kids participate.

Students participated in hands-on activities at Methodist Dallas Medical Center
Students participated in hands-on activities at Methodist Dallas Medical Center, allowing them to see first-hand how physicians are strengthening the Dallas community through medicine.

America’s Promise asked United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’s vice president of community impact Mark Mullaney about the importance of looking at issues holistically, the challenges of partnerships, and what communities and individuals alike can do to better prepare Dallas’ young people for successful, healthy futures.

1. Tell us a little more about the Skills to Succeed program. What exactly do students learn?

Students participate in weekly group exercises and discussions focused on topics that include teamwork, career development and planning, financial literacy, creativity and communication skills, and professionalism and ethical decision making.  Students also develop a resume and participate in a day of mock interviews to gain the skills and confidence to present themselves effectively to employers.

We also provide a two-week camp with our partner the Dallas Regional Chamber each June based on the same content.  Future Focus Camp uses the same core curriculum but adds in a college fair and visits to local employers where much of the content is presented by professionals at the companies.

students learned directly from insurance experts about how to stay safe
At Future Focus Camp, students learned directly from insurance experts about how to stay safe on the road by investigating a real collision. GEICO offers competitive entry-level positions that provide mobility for individuals interested in multiple departments within the organization to build and strengthen skills.

For the 2017 camp, students visited companies in telecommunications, auto insurance, construction, healthcare, and finance. Given United Way’s role we also felt it was important to highlight different options for careers in the nonprofit and public sectors. Students got to visit with our team and visited Dallas City Hall to learn how you can work in accounting, marketing, or other fields and be part of a mission driven organization as well.    

2. United Way focuses on income, education, and health. Why is it so important for communities to focus on these three things for young people, particularly in Dallas?

Dallas Independent School District is the largest system in our region, serving over 150,000 students, 88 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged. This rate is almost 30 percent higher than the state average and is compounded by the fact that Dallas also has the highest child poverty rate of any U.S. city over a million people. 

When students live in households that aren’t as financially secure as they need to be, the stress that comes with living in poverty affects their ability to focus on school. They worry if they will be evicted, if they need to get a job, or potentially drop out, to help support the family, or if they will have access to the healthcare and nutrition they need to fuel their brains and bodies. 

The camp also allowed students to engage with a medical professional while learning about real life emergency room cases.
The camp also allowed students to engage with a medical professional while learning about real life emergency room cases.

Many students across our community are dealing with lack of access to consistent and healthy meals, access to a medical home for well visits and preventive screenings, and are battling issues including childhood obesity, family violence, and substance abuse. While having to deal with one of these health issues would be enough to impact a child’s ability to focus on their studies, we know that too often our children are dealing with multiple issues. 

United Way of Metropolitan Dallas is not a single-issue organization. We know that making strategic investments in these three critical impact areas provides a more holistic approach to serving the intertwined needs of our youngest citizens.       

3. United Way partners with a diverse group of partners to solve problems. What are some challenges that come with these kinds of partnerships? How do you go about addressing those problems?

Half the battle when it comes to developing partnerships is getting people to the table and overcoming the sense that organizations must be competitors when it comes to clients and money.  We have spent a lot of time developing relationships with the organizations we support through our grant investments, so they see us as a trusted resource to help mobilize the community around our issue areas. 

The 2017 cohort on their last day of Future Focus Camp.
The 2017 cohort on their last day of Future Focus Camp.

This relationship building has also led to opportunities for us to get groups that are focused around the same issue area, or related areas, together to meet and share what they do.  Knowing that a funder like United Way values collaboration has helped facilitate the development of partnerships, both formal and informal, across our community. We have then been able, when appropriate, to create coalitions or formal programs and initiatives that we can fund or fundraise for to scale impact in the region. 

4. What is one thing that governments, nonprofits, businesses, or even individuals could do to help prepare the young people of Dallas for the workforce?

The easiest but most complicated answer is for all these groups to better work together in pursuit of a set of common goals. The businesses know the skills they need in their workforce now and in the future. The schools are charged with educating the students, but are often doing so without a connection to the workforce so students will be able to get jobs that will allow them to earn a wage to support themselves and their families.

Students learning about the importance of marketing from the marketing team at GEICO.
Students learning about the importance of marketing from the marketing team at GEICO.

Governments and the nonprofit funders have the financial resources, influence and leverage, and the nonprofit service providers have supplemental programs that can bolster what the schools provide.

Finally, individuals can get involved as mentors for students to share their experiences, knowledge and career paths, as well as be donors to help support programs and organizations that seek to make the future bright for all of our students.


The Youth Opportunity Fund is part of the Citi Foundation’s Pathways to Progress initiative. Pathways to Progress launched in 2014 in the United States with a $50 million, three-year commitment that helped more than 100,000 young people, ages 16-24, across 10 cities to become career-ready through first jobs, internships, and leadership and entrepreneurship training. In February 2017 the Citi Foundation announced a global expansion of the Pathways to Progress initiative with a $100 million, three-year investment to prepare 500,000 young people for today’s competitive job market.

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