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Supporting Ohio’s Students: United Way’s Care Closets

The Youngstown City School District 2024 Performance Audit reports that students in Youngstown, Ohio, face a constellation of systemic challenges that significantly hinder their educational opportunities. According to the audit, 99.96% of students in the district are considered economically disadvantaged, more than double the statewide average. These students often begin their educational journey at a disadvantage, with lower scores on standardized tests in both reading and math compared to their more affluent peers. The audit reveals that this early academic gap, influenced by factors like poverty and household instability, tends to persist and complicate students' educational experiences throughout their schooling.

To directly address these issues, United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley has developed the Care Closet program within local schools. This initiative provides immediate access to essential items such as food, hygiene products, clothing and school supplies, all available within the school environment. Designed to be kid-friendly and efficient, the closets operate on a "grab and go" basis, reducing the time and emotional energy students might otherwise spend worrying about these basic needs.

Currently, the district has successfully implemented 14 care closets in 4 school districts, with plans to add 5 more by the next academic year. Throughout the 2023-2024 school year, these closets have been used over 36,189 times, demonstrating their vital role in supporting the daily needs of students and staff. The aim is to alleviate external pressures so students can focus more fully on their academic tasks and personal development.

May Samad, a social worker at East Middle School, emphasizes the value of these interventions: "The United Way supports East Middle by funding programming and providing resources such as food, clothing, hygiene products and numerous other gifts and services that are accessible to scholars through our school care closets. The team at the United Way has been instrumental in assisting scholars at East Middle School to maintain and uphold our Universal Expectations: Be Responsible, Be Respectful, and Be Safe."

This initiative not only addresses immediate needs but also contributes to a more supportive and conducive learning environment, enabling students to better meet educational benchmarks and prepare for future success. Through its targeted support, United Way is playing a crucial role in mitigating the impact of socio-economic disadvantages on student achievement in Ohio.