Free the Future Children should be FREE to learn & grow
FREE to play & discover
FREE from worry & insecurity
FREE to reach their potential

We must
in our region’s

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20% of kids in the Portland region are living in poverty.

That’s 1 in 5 kids

whose families must choose between
rent or groceries
heat or healthcare
new clothes or TriMet fare.

We won’t accept this.

Together we can make our region
a better place for

Poverty is

Root causes run deep.
There’s no single solution,
and we know we can’t fix it on our own.

We have a

United Way of the Columbia-Willamette has been bringing our community together to do good for nearly 100 years. We’re uniquely positioned to connect and support the people, nonprofits, businesses and government agencies working hard to address poverty in our region.

By bridging gaps and helping smart organizations work even smarter, we’re revolutionizing the way our communities are served.

There are gaps in the system.

So we’re changing the system.

All together now!

We’ve thoroughly vetted and aligned forces with our region’s best-in-class nonprofits. We’ve created ways for these organizations to connect and learn from each other, increasing their capacity to serve our communities.

Victory. Repeat.

We’re collectively identifying what’s working, then scaling those winning practices to help more kids, more effectively.

Equity isn’t a buzzword.

Inequities continue to exist in our region. Kids of color are more likely to live in poverty, face harsher discipline in school than their white peers and get less help preparing for college.

Bringing Success to Scale

SEI Helps Turn Around Graduation Rates at Jefferson High

In 2015, Oregon saw a two-point graduation rate increase. Good news! But not as good as the news coming out of Jefferson High in Portland. Eighty percent of students at Jefferson graduated on time, an increase of 14 percentage points in just one year. Read more

After being considered for closure, Jefferson High was transformed in 2011 into Jefferson High School Middle College for Advanced Studies. The new model provided the majority African-American student body - most of whom are low-income - with extra resources and the option to take college courses.

At the same time, Portland Public Schools tapped United Way nonprofit partner Self Enhancement Inc. to help turn things around. When the district was seeing graduation rates among African-American kids as low as 44 percent, 98 percent of SEI’s low-income African-American program enrollees were graduating on time. Eighty-five percent were going on to college.

SEI launched a “Whole School Model” of services at Jefferson, offering comprehensive mentoring, tutoring and 24/7 wraparound support services to every enrolled student.

“It’s not that kids can’t handle it academically, it’s that there are so many other barriers,” SEI President and CEO Tony Hopson, Sr. said. “It gets in the way of showing up to school every day with a bright mind ready to learn.”

SEI’s comprehensive approach looks to boost student success by helping kids’ families meet basic needs, while offering additional support through counseling and parenting classes.

“What we’ve been able to prove, is that with the right support African-American students can learn at the same level, if not higher, than anyone else,” Hopson said.

SEI’s success in Jefferson helped shape the model for United Way’s, and co-funder Multnomah County’s, High School Graduation initiative, serving 800 kids in two school districts. “United Way is coordinating partners and evaluating progress to identify what works to keep those kids in school and get a diploma,” said Keith Thomajan, CEO of United Way of the Columbia-Willamette.

“After a few years, as we see the results, we’ll use our regional footprint to do it again, in other high need school districts. In a state that’s 49th in the nation in high school graduation rates, we think that’s the way to turn things around.”


Enough talk.
How is this helping

are showing up

A child’s chances of succeeding in school are largely determined before they even set foot in one. We’re proud to co-lead big efforts in two counties that connect educators, parents, funders and policymakers to work together to help every kid get ready for school.

  • Our early learning experts and Washington County libraries created a pilot program that delivers rotating mini-libraries to child care and preschool providers in low-income neighborhoods.
  • We distributed over 14,000 early literacy kits to families across Multnomah County. The kits come in six languages and include songs, stories and games that reflect the unique traditions and values of Vietnamese, Slavic, Latino, Native American and African American communities.
  • More kids are starting school on time. By increasing teacher visits and expanding outreach to communities of color, we were able to help over 7,700 children in Multnomah County register for kindergarten on time.

We’re helping the kids who need it most
stay in school & graduate.

All too often families of color get lost in an educational system that was not built to include their needs. We’re currently working with two school districts, serving more than 800 kids, and culturally-specific nonprofits to identify the types of support that make the biggest impact, then building a scalable blueprint for success for our entire region.

We’re helping  families
meet basic needs so kids can
focus in school.

  • Children without stable housing have little chance of academic success. Through short-term rent and utilities assistance we helped over 2,000 households and 6,000 individuals stay in their homes last year.
  • Families who are poor, despite steady work, make up over 72% of all Oregon families living in poverty. Last year we helped nearly 10,000 families get more than $15 million in tax credits. That’s cash in their pockets for food, rent and other basic needs.

We’re activating the

Our Hands On Greater Portland program connects over 10,000 volunteers a year to projects that directly support kids in our region. Hands On volunteers serve as tutors and mentors; they stock food banks, sort donated children’s books and they transform schools in need of TLC. Volunteers also provide vital capacity to the nonprofits serving kids in our region - in fact they contributed a whopping $1.5 million in service value to the Portland metro region in 2015.

Join us.

These strategies only work when
our community is United behind them.

Change starts with one person.
Change starts with

United Way of the Columbia-Willamette Free the Future

Learn more at