Photo of kids volunteering, wearing masks outdoors, painting crafts with a "LIVE UNITED" tent in the background.

United Way’s Square One Project continues to move children and families forward in face of COVID-19 pandemic


SACRAMENTO – Four years into its Square One Project, United Way California Capital Region is using a mix of new and tried-and-true tools to ensure families have the resources they need for their children to graduate from high school ready for success in college or career. From its long-time programs to its new partnerships, United Way is continuing its 20-year promise to end poverty in the region by helping children succeed in school through the challenges of the pandemic.   

“When we launched our Square One Project four years ago, we knew that a 20-year promise was a strong commitment and would come with many unknowns and pivots to keep meeting our goal,” said Stephanie Bray, president and CEO, United Way California Capital Region. “The pandemic is just the first of many challenges we will face over the next 16 years, but our strong network of partners across sectors and industries is ready to pivot in any way necessary to end poverty in the Sacramento area by making sure kids can succeed in school and life.”

To meet families’ most immediate needs once the pandemic hit, United Way raised $572,000 in three months through its COVID-19 Local Relief Fund to provide 1,145 families in need across the region with a one-time $500 distribution to help offset costs of rent, bills and other basic needs. United Way worked with 11 nonprofit partners in five counties to identify low-income families whose lives were disrupted by the pandemic and ensure they received the help they needed. The fund closed in June, but the structure remains in place in case of a second wave.

United Way is now partnering with the City of Sacramento to help bridge the digital divide that has widened during the pandemic. The Digital Equity program launched this month and will provide up to 10,000 Sacramento households with free broadband access this fall, as well as 1,000 households with free computers and digital literacy training, so families can continue to work and go to school remotely.

United Way’s long-time free tax prep assistance moved online in April and continued to help local families file their taxes, apply for the maximum tax credits for which they were eligible and receive their Economic Impact Payment. Despite the disruption from the stay-at-home order, United Way’s free tax prep volunteers filed 7,060 returns for the 2019 tax year and put $10.5 million back in the pockets of local families through federal refunds.

United Way’s Kindergarten to College Savings program continues to make college education a reality by seeding participating kindergarteners’ college savings accounts with $25. Last year, the program expanded from one school to 10. Since the 2020-2021 school year began, United Way has seeded 243 accounts, totaling 516 accounts since the start of the program. United Way also is seeding matched savings accounts for local foster youth and holding life skills workshops through its Women United action group. As part of United Way’s Square One Project, Women United held its Foster Youth Summit last year to identify gaps in services for local foster youth and is working to address those gaps that have widened during the pandemic so foster youth can graduate from high school prepared for success in college or career.

About United Way’s Square One Project

United Way’s Square One Project was launched in 2016 to significantly increase the number of students in the region who graduate from high school ready for success in college and beyond. United Way believes ending poverty starts in school and that school is square one for reaching all families and ensuring children are healthy and successful in life. The project is working to ensure kids meet important milestones and their families receive support and resources. For nearly 100 years, United Way California Capital Region has brought local people together to make community change happen. Today, the nonprofit is bringing people together across Amador, El Dorado, Sacramento, Placer and Yolo counties for its Square One Project.

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