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Youth will have its say at venerable United Way

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At 23, Greg Braylock will bring youthful leadership as coordinator of a new United Way of Greater Toledo program involving college and high school students.

The Blade/Andy Morrison
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Greg Braylock's age - he's just 23 - seems at odds with an office filled with laminated lists of goals and color-coded, three-ring binders that list discussion points, such as "Taking your Volunteerism to the Next Level."

Still, there's a Mylar balloon - "Congrats Grad!" it reads - and the bag of Cheerios on his desk. Mr. Braylock, the youngest employee of United Way of Greater Toledo, chuckled: "I guess I still eat like I'm in college."

Having just graduated from the University of Toledo, Mr. Braylock is coordinator of Youth United Way, a new program funded by the United Way's most recent allocation of funds.

In total, the agency doled out nearly $8.6 million dollars to about 120 programs in Lucas, Wood, and Ottawa counties.

Those programs offer things like dental services to the needy, health care to shut-ins, legal services to the underprivileged, and housing for the homeless.

For the most part, the dollar amounts remain unchanged, though a few programs lost funding for a variety of reasons - poor paperwork or a failure to meet their goals over the last 12 months, for example.

The United Way withdrew funding from several mental health counseling providers because many of those services are provided by Lucas County's Mental Health and Recovery Services, said Bill Kitson, United Way's president and chief executive officer.

Still, clients have complained that the Lucas County system is overloaded. United Way may revisit the issue during the next funding go-around, Mr. Kitson said. "We make this cut incredibly apprehensively," he said.

Funding remained virtually unchanged in Wood and Ottawa counties.

However, $25,000 has been set aside for a future domestic violence program in Wood County, prompted in part by the murder of a Bowling Green mother, Alicia Castillon, and her friend, John C. Mitchell. Ms. Castillon's ex-boyfriend is charged with the March 29 slaying.

"That case drove the volunteers' sensitivities to that issue," he said.

In addition to the $8.6 million, $4.3 million will go to programs specified by donors.

But when it comes to figuring out where it will commit undesignated funds, the United Way is heavy on empowering people to help themselves and in helping youth, Mr. Kitson said.

Enter Mr. Braylock. His position fits snugly into both philosophies.

Mr. Braylock has recruited 16 college students, who in turn will recruit high school students to develop projects in their own neighborhoods - a new playground, an after-school program, or a trash and graffiti cleanup perhaps.

In a retreat several weeks ago, the college students added to their to-do list. They'll raise $75,000 to finance some of the projects and they will help Habitat for Humanity in building a house.

It's an upside-down approach to helping others for the United Way, where officials' protocol is to know finite details of programs before it's willing to commit funds toward them.

In this case, the agency set aside $58,000 to pay Mr. Braylock's salary, training materials, and other expenses for the corps of volunteers Mr. Braylock will oversee.

"Here we're saying, 'Here's the money. What can you do with it?'•" said Sarah Gill, United Way spokesman.

The approach has a practical side too, Mr. Braylock said.

"You don't go up to high school students and say, 'Hey, want to do some community service?' They're going to think of raking some old lady's yard," he said. "Instead, we say: What matters to you, and what, if you had the power to change it, would you change?'•"

Contact Robin Erb at:

robinerb@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133.

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