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The Importance of Place-Based Work

“We invest in neighborhoods because we believe that you all know exactly what you need in your communities and you just need some support to get there,” said United Way of Central Carolinas Chief Impact Officer Kathryn Firmin-Sellers as she addressed Lakeview residents and volunteers about place-based work at Live United Day earlier this year.

“Our goal is to help execute on your vision for your own neighborhood and it is our privilege to do so,” said Firmin-Sellers.

Communities thrive when residents thrive. Residents thrive when they have access to the resources they need to pursue their aspirations for their neighborhood. That is why United Way launched United Neighborhoods in 2017 – a community-led and community-based initiative to create sustained neighborhood change. 

By working with lead partner agencies, or “Community Quarterbacks,” in Lakeview, Renaissance West and Grier Heights, United Way has been able to successfully fund and guide specific work in these neighborhoods in order to reach resident goals of building thriving neighborhoods where families want to live.

The Executive Director for CrossRoads – the lead partner agency for Grier Heights – Tiffany Capers knows that we all need many things to survive – education, healthcare, access to healthy foods – and we need to offer a response that addresses the entirety of that need. 

“This partnership has allowed CrossRoads to meet people where they are, to respond to the needs they have, to provide the resources they need, to amplify the assets they bring and to activate the power they have to improve their lives,” said Capers.

Place-based initiatives work when an organization gains a community’s trust by providing the resources and capacity that residents lifted up to their Community Quarterback – demonstrating the quarterbacks are listening to residents and implementing real solutions. United Way creates relationships with lead partner agencies to bring their individual visions for their neighborhoods to life and to improve the quality of life for residents. 


A key component of place-based work is that it gives power back to residents, allowing them to be the driving force behind the unique change they seek in their individual community. United Way is privileged to cultivate change in communities through working with residents to identify their needs and strategically implement sustainable solutions.

“United Way chose to get proximate to the problem and engage in trust-building relationships with our neighborhood leaders,” said Lakeview Neighborhood Alliance Executive Director Jamall Kinard. 

This is not an overnight solution. Place-based work is effective, but it takes a lot of time and patience in order to see notable change in participating communities. 

As United Way moves forward, it has tailored this strategy across its four-county footprint to meet the specific, identified needs of residents in each area. United Way’s 2023 grant cycle is centered around neighborhood work with a commitment to serve each county as well as a wide range of geographies within Mecklenburg County.

“This has continued to create a trust-based philanthropic environment where truth and justice are celebrated, strong individuals and families are cultivated, and unjust systems are dismantled and reformed,” said Kinard.

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