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December 16, 2016

Transforming Innovative Concepts into Workable Community Solutions

When United Way launched The Shift as a 2016 pilot, the goal was to have three prototypes developed by teams of volunteers to be implemented directly into the community. Three teams presented their results at the December 13 Demo Day, and one group will see their project come to life in 2017.

Community Grandparents

Community Grandparents is a project designed to foster trusting relationships between low-income parents and older adults to build support networks and create self-sufficiency. The prototype will come to life as a real community program, thanks to Community Matters, a local organization working to create a thriving, more just community by removing barriers to opportunity. They mentored the Community Grandparents team throughout the 12 weeks of The Shift, and will launch the effort in Lower Price Hill next year.

“This is an ideal situation and what we thought would happen when we launched The Shift,” said Mike Baker, community impact director, United Way of Greater Cincinnati. “We really didn’t know what would happen at the end of this, but It was our hope and best case scenario that these would be implemented into the community. Now it’s playing out and it’s very exciting.”

Ultimately, Community Grandparents hopes to connect low-income parents with retired neighbors to form a mutually beneficial mentoring relationship.

“When they first introduced the idea to us it just made sense and is something that I could immediately see the potential for, and that’s very exciting,” said Mary Delaney, executive director, Community Matters. “I love having a partnership where we get to help innovate and build the idea as well.”


During their presentation, Community Grandparents members Jamie Carr and Sarah Rieger talked about Deanna, a single mother who would have to take off work to take care of a sick child because she had no support. Things like that would be an inconvenience for a lot of people, but for Deanna, it is a barrier that might cost her a job. They also talked about Rose, who is semi-retired, has three grown kids and a desire to give back to the community. Jamie and Sarah then posed the question: What if someone like Rose could help Deanna?

“We did a lot of listening in the community, and the more we listened, the more we realized this was a really viable and tangible thing — to meet this mother and to meet this grandparent and just think ‘all we have to do is get them together,’” said Carr, who works for Macy’s. “And if you have the ability to partner with somebody like Community Matters that has boots on the ground, knows the community, understands what is and what isn’t going to work,  why not just go for it and get it done?”

Carr and Rieger have pledged to stay heavily involved with the project and work with Community Matters as they implement. They are confident they have created a model that can eventually be implemented into other neighborhoods around Greater Cincinnati.

“I think initially with Community Matters as our first partner in this, it will be very hands on, and we want to learn from them,” said Rieger, who works for the Alzheimer’s Association. “That way, if we can take it to other neighborhoods we know what we’re getting into. So they can really concentrate on implementing it in their community, but we can also be with them step by step and learn from them.”

RWD FFWD (Rewind Fast Forward)

RWD FFWD's goal is to create a partnership between individuals with criminal backgrounds and local tech-based businesses, including offering technical training, resources, work experience and personalized mentorship.

The presenters prompted the audience at Demo Day to close their eyes and think about the worst thing you’ve ever done, how that felt, and how it might feel if everyone here knew what you'd done -  that’s what someone with a criminal background deals with every day.


The RWD FFWD team not only wanted to provide job opportunities, training and mentorships for individuals returning from incarceration, but also work to change the public's perception of them. They worked with tech startup Wyzerr to create an internship opportunity for a returning citizen, Curtis, identified by the Ohio Justice and Policy Center. He will start his internship January.

The RWD FFWD team will work with Wyzerr and Curtis to keep tabs on how he is doing, as well as continue to work with other local advocates and organizations to provide further job opportunities and trainings for other returning citizens.

Beats ‘n’ Eats

The Beats ‘n’ Eats team is working to eliminate food insecurity for teens during the summer, when less than 10% of those eligible for free and reduced lunches actually access any of the several available programs. 

The team wanted concentrate their focus on kids who are geographically isolated. They took 120 pre-packaged Currito lunches to the Villages of Roll Hill, a public housing neighborhood in East Westwood. Originally, their plan was to have music playing from their truck and have various games and activities to engage kids, but it turned out to be a bad weather day. So, in the spirit of prototyping, they pivoted and went door to door to deliver the meals to kids and their families. In two hours, they delivered all 120 meals and received a lot of positive feedback.


Beats ‘n’ Eats has had ongoing discussions with Findlay Market and other organizations about having a more permanent program in place for the future.

“I’m so proud of what all of the teams accomplished,” said Baker. They didn’t just sit and talk about ideas, but they actually went out in the community and fed 120 kids, got Curtis an internship, and partnered with Community Matters to implement a program in Lower Price Hill,”

“This whole process went amazingly, and greatly exceeded what we thought would be possible in three months. We had a thought that if you had really good ideas and really talented people, they could make things move forward at an accelerated pace. What they’ve done, the quality way in which they’ve approached the work, the heart that they’ve brought to it, and the impressive speed with which they dove in, tried some things out, learned a lot and pivoted, has been just mind blowing and humbling to see it actually happen in a way that we dreamed it could, but weren’t entirely sure that it would.”


*Note: Our partners at social innovation firm Design Impact helped design the curriculum for The Shift, and helped lead each of the teams.

Interested in learning more about United Way’s work in innovation or participating in The Shift 2017? Email Mike Baker at