Strong Roots

“Our goal is to get to 5% vacancy rate, which if we build 1,000 units a year for the next decade, we still won’t get there. So we’ve got a long way to go. It means that every unit counts.”
– Mayor Paul Soglin, City of Madison

In late February of this year, approximately 115 volunteers from the Business Volunteer Network came together and worked hard to clean and paint apartments on Madison’s north side so that homeless families could move in to stable housing.

“The city approached us to see if we could partner with our Housing First program and end homelessness for 27 families,” said Martha Cranley, United Way of Dane County Director of Community Impact: Basic Needs. “We brought the Business Volunteer Network to help out. They got volunteers and brought cleaning supplies and painting supplies”. People were able to start moving into the units in March.

The Community Development Authority is a key partner, as is Meridian Group, Inc. A longtime partner with United Way, Meridian manages the property. Families are leasing from Meridian, which will build their credit and rental history. “Because these units are month to month, families are able to be in housing while still looking for more affordable units” said Belinda Richardson, a housing case manager from The Road Home. “Once a family has found housing, then another family in shelter would be given the same opportunity to move in and work on their barriers such repairing their credit report, gaining positive rental history etc.”.

Since the renovation, there are currently 23 families, 30 adults, and 59 kids living in these units – that’s a total of 89 people who are no longer homeless. There are still three 3-bedroom units that are vacant, which would provide housing for approximately 20 more people.

“The other great partners in this work are our Housing First partners: YWCA Madison, The Road Home, Salvation Army and East Madison Community Center. Their case managers will be working with families out here just like they would be in any other part of the city,” said Cranley. “It is our hope that families will be really well-supported and become part of the community and neighborhood.”


At United Way of Dane County, we use our leadership, vision and expansive relationships to bring the community together in multiple convening roles. We regularly engages donors, neighborhoods, people who experience specific issues, and the broader community to ensure we have our fingers on the pulse of what people are saying and thinking.

In the fall of 2014, United Way convened a group of community leaders and formed the Delegation to Create Economic Stability for Young Families. The Delegations’ charge was to research and determine local approaches and strategies that we can deploy to (1) decrease the number of young families with children who are living in poverty in Dane County and (2) specifically address barriers for children and families of color in our community.

Why it matters:

  • Poverty is one of the largest challenges children and families face in Dane County
  • Poverty in families affects multiple generations, creating a cycle that increases the likelihood children who grow up in poverty will live in poverty as adults.
  • Poverty can affect a child’s development, their academic success, their overall health, and their lifetime earning potential – all barriers to economic stability.
  • Young families of color are often disconnected from effective, local programs that can help them become more economically stable.


  • Increase the number of economically stable young families, particularly families of color. Our community will achieve this goal through an intergenerational strategy that integrates family sustaining jobs, secure housing, and early childhood supports.


The Power of Many- Business
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The Power of Many- Volunteers
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The Power of Many- Creating Economically Stable Families
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The power of many – Partner Agencies
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The power of many – Program Participant
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Activities to help understand the difficult choices people living in poverty have to make…

Below are activities that can be done with a company team, school group, neighborhood association, your family, or any community group, to understand the complex and challenging situations that Dane County families in poverty face each day.

Click on an activity to download instructions and supplies. Some require minimal supplies such as dice or candy. If you want to use an activity but are unable to provide the needed supplies or need help facilitating, please contact our United Way Volunteer Center.

We would greatly appreciate learning how you utilized these engagement activities, what you liked about them, and what we can improve for future use. Feedback can be sent to Kathy Martinson.

United Way Trivia Fun!
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Report Card game
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Rent or Groceries game
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Making Choices game
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Skittles game
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Would You Rather game
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