Driving policy and participation

Driving policy and participation

Advocate united


The data shows that systemic inequities are the root causes of intergenerational poverty among people of color. Despite our best efforts through broad support of our communities in need, our progress to date has been hampered by these systemic inequities.

That’s why equity, particularly racial equity, needs to be at the forefront of decisions in municipal, state and federal policy. Until we can make sure everyone has an equal shot at the starting line, our work will never reach its full potential. Moreover, investments in the most critical areas of need in Rhode Island, such as housing and education, have seen dramatic reductions over the years, rather than improvements in line with the demand.



is how much a Black household earns in Rhode Island for every dollar a white household earns



is how much more likely it is for Black Rhode Islanders to be incarcerated compared to whites



is the fraction Rhode Island invests in affordable housing compared to Massachusetts


Driving systemic change via public policy and research

United Way of Rhode Island will continue to fight for access to critical services, as well as advocate for equitable representation on state boards and commissions. Additionally, we are proud to support community and neighborhood mobilizing organizations that are focused on breaking the barriers to racial equity.

United Way of Rhode Island has long been the leader and early funder of organizations that are bringing innovative ideas to our state. We are expanding these efforts, as well as expanding tools to scale these important missions.

We will also expand our data and research efforts to be a state leader in analyzing and evangelizing data pertinent to our mission. This year we’ll be refining data collection systems and funding research to improve the ability to disaggregate data by race and income level.

Larry Warner

Encouraging civic participation

United Way of Rhode Island is committed to creating spaces and support that help Rhode Islanders be the best community champions they can be. We are expanding existing programs like our Advocacy 101 empowerment program and creating new programs to inspire Rhode Islanders to vote, run for office and advocate for the platforms they are most passionate about. Our aim this year is to expand our Advocacy 101 training to be delivered in every city and town in Rhode Island. (Learn more about ways you can advocate today to support our mission.)

Reforming the criminal justice system

United Way of Rhode Island intends to work extensively to reduce the school-to-prison pipeline, as well as advocate for policies that help our neighbors get back on their feet during and after incarceration.

what our "ADVOCATE UNITED" goals are

LIVE United 2025: Advocate United

Driving Policy and Participation

Through our Advocate United pillar, we're driving systemic change through public policy and research. And, because democracy isn't a spectator sport, we're training Rhode Islanders to be advocates and working to increase voter turnout.

Group of people
Goal: Trained Advocates

Triple the number of trained advocates

Source: UWRI Volunteer Data

Goal: Voter Participation

Increase Voter Participation in the 2024 Presidential Election by 25%

2023 Legislative agenda

The 2023 Legislative Agenda supports the Strategic Plan 2025 by increasing legislative activity and investments that produce improved outcomes for Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) communities and creates a more inclusive process for drafting, advocating, and executing Rhode Island’s general laws and investments

Our work supporting each United Way Strategic Plan 2025 pillar can be seen below.

LIFT UNITED: Building economic security

Support the Low-Mod and Land Use Commissions’ forward momentum to address systemic barriers to increasing the supply of affordable housing, including equitable changes to the 10% threshold, comprehensive zoning reform, and insuring we have adequate enforcement and accountability in the distribution of building subsidies.  

Support the development of a statewide Housing Plan, designed in partnership with the Secretary of Housing with Community level input, to include individuals and families with very low, low, and median income. The plan will include a thorough analysis of the housing system; including emergency shelter, a permanent rental assistance program, eviction diversion programs, right to counsel, rent control, and enforcement of minimum housing standards, including a certificate of habitability for all rental properties. Rhode Island’s private rental market is largely unregulated and has historically exploited low-income and BIPOC communities who have been systematically denied access to home ownership. Additionally, we will work to ensure that the State Housing Plan makes for adequate capacity building and investment in the development of affordable housing and affordable homeownership opportunities for our extremely low- and low-income households.

Promote awareness of Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit. These are tools that, when combined with increasing minimum wage, help to lift families out of poverty. Our work here is to promote these products to eligible families that do not typically file income tax returns to increase resources in families that need them desperately.

Advocate for greater protections for children and families, to protect our most vulnerable households. Increasing the RI Works benefit amount from 40% to 50% of the Federal Poverty Level or $959 monthly for a family of three plus a cost-of-living adjustment.

Provide benefits to a first-time pregnant woman from documentation of pregnancy to align with RIte Care coverage. This will ensure that medical debt does not saddle the new family and that appropriate medical services are available to support proper growth and development.  

ACHIEVE UNITED: Advancing childhood learning

Ensure greater access to Broadband Internet The RI Afterschool Network works to close the opportunity and access gaps for kids of color and kids in poorer communities. When our youth have greater choice, they can explore afterschool in a more meaningful way. Broadband access is one of the oldest barriers to learning and earning in Rhode Island.

Invest $500,000 in the Summer Learning Initiative. Summer learning programs help students experience social, emotional, physical, academic, and citizenship growth. Ninety-two percent of Rhode Island parents support public funding for afterschool programs (According to a 2019 study by the Afterschool Alliance).

Lead a comprehensive campaign for investment in Out of School Time Learning from the State budget, ARPA funding and ESSER III dollars to ensure access for over 59,000 children and youth desperately in need of a quality afterschool programming to supplement learning and exploration of topics they find interesting. 

Youth-centered design promotes the cultivation of relationships among providers who know and care about the community and cultures served. The Afterschool Alliance reports that 72% of kids in afterschool programs are safe and out of trouble and 81% of kids build valuable life skills in afterschool programs. 89% of parents support public funding for afterschool. Additional information can be found here. United Way of Rhode Island continues to focus on various equity indicators, such as social-emotional supports, climate and culture of the afterschool space and local environment, and family involvement and understanding of youth development.

INVEST UNITED: Expanding philanthropy

Recognize nonprofit organizations as an essential part of Rhode Island’s infrastructure and service delivery. Nonprofits are small businesses and corporations however have been left behind in terms of investment during the Covid-19 pandemic. The nonprofit sector (including colleges, universities, and hospitals) makes up 18% of the Rhode Island workforce however the investments in the sector have forced far too many to close their doors for good.

Research the feasibility of a multi-year State Budget Cycle Explore creating a two-year or multi-year budgetary cycle for the state of Rhode Island. Our team will explore implications both anticipated and unanticipated should Rhode Island move to a multi-year budget cycle. We will also ask the question, “does this promote a better, stronger democracy?”

ADVOCATE UNITED: Driving policy and participation
  • Justice Reform In order to achieve a more just society, we must look at racial equity and the systems that cause extreme disparities from both preventative and restorative perspectives. Our work focuses on the Out of School Time Learning spaces and Adult Basic Education and Workforce Development opportunities while taking a very specific look at the Criminal Justice realm. Our aim is to mitigate the long-term negative impacts on BIPOC communities and design a new policy that aids Rhode Islanders to return to a full life complete with inclusive and engaging prospects for home, work, and life.

    Cash Bail Reform – The U.S. jail population has grown dramatically in recent decades. This increase is due almost entirely to the rise of pretrial detention, the practice of holding a person in jail before trial, while they are presumed innocent. One factor drives most pretrial detention, confining an estimated 2.5 million people each year behind bars: unaffordable cash bail. The RI Prison population is projected to increase by 10% in the next decade after years of decline. We will call on you to join the dialogue on how to improve this system to ensure our collective safety and make meaningful changes to the existing system.

    Increased Advocacy for Comprehensive Housing Reform we will continue to advocate for the equitable distribution of investments to ensure housing options are increased for low and extremely low-income households and those who are formerly incarcerated.  We advocate for supporting new construction as well as the preservation of affordable housing, more housing vouchers, and the building of additional public housing units, and maintaining a close watch to ensure barriers to accessing these programs are mitigated for BIPOC, formerly incarcerated, and low and modest-income communities.

    Rhode Island Equity Action Net, redesign and rebrand Advocate United to include identification, education, and organizing. The Rhode Island Equity Action Net’s purpose is to bring individuals and organizations together to improve racial equity outcomes for underserved and marginalized Rhode Islanders by providing tools to address disparate outcomes of Social Determinants of Health, and by promoting an action-oriented advocacy system. RIEAN expands partnerships to include facilitators, trainers, advocates, and individuals with lived experience. The work to address the legislative agenda begins with this group. We will call on you to join us at the State House to advocate for your causes.

Strategic Actions: Mobilizing Rhode Islanders for Equity and Justice

Voter Identification, Registration and Mobilization

Election Mobilization - Take action before election day, November 8, 2022, and beyond, to support organizations and volunteers who organize people to ensure our family, friends, and neighbors are registered to vote and need help getting to the polls. In 2020, more than 80 million Americans did not vote because they missed a registration deadline or didn’t know how to register.

Cities and towns across the state have big elections in 2022. This year’s primaries showed an extremely low voter turnout of fifteen percent. Local elections for mayors, school boards, and more are being held in many communities. Our water supplies, roads, and parks are determined at the local level. These offices and issues affect our daily lives—we need to vote local!


Democracy is not a spectator sport. Join us.


Sign our equity pledge to join us in eliminating policies that disadvantage Rhode Islanders of color.


Advocate alongside us or sign up for Advocacy 101.


Support our work with a tax-deductible charitable contribution.

ANTHONY BOTELHO serves as senior vice president of commercial banking and team leader for the commercial and industrial group at The Washington Trust Co. / COURTESY THE WASHINGTON TRUST CO.

Five Qs With: Anthony Botelho

Providence Business News

Anthony Botelho serves as senior vice president of commercial banking and team leader for the commercial and industrial group at The Washington Trust Co. He was recently appointed to lead the bank’s commercial lending growth in Connecticut, where the company recently opened a New Haven commercial lending office. Anthony also serves on United Way of Rhode Island's Board of Directors.



Rethinking how one of R.I.’s largest nonprofits can grow

The Boston Globe

In October, [Idrees "Lanre"] Ajakaiye was appointed the new chief development officer at... United Way of Rhode Island where he'll be in charge of helping... United Way achieve its current strategic plan, which outlines the nonprofit's investment of $100 million over five years to help achieve racial equity.


THE PROVIDENCE CITY COUNCIL gave the second and final approval on Wednesday to a $10 million spending plan for racial reparations. / PBN FILE PHOTO/CHRIS BERGENHEIM

City Council gives final approval to $10M reparations budget

Providence Business News

A two-yearslong effort to bring racial reparations to Providence achieved a milestone Wednesday... The approved funding largely mirrors recommendations set forth by a city panel based on community input, but with one major change that shifts some money into a COVID-19 Equity Fund to be managed by United Way of Rhode Island.


401Gives Returns in Just Two Weeks

Not only has United Way of Rhode Island set the effort’s most ambitious goal yet, aiming to raise $4.01 million. 401Gives also will enjoy its first ever “Weekend Edition” and take over the Ocean State beginning at 6 a.m. on Friday, March 31.

United Way Hosts 11th Children’s Book Drive

United Way of Rhode Island’s Children’s Book Drive is back! From April 1 – May 24, we’re teaming up with Women United and Books Are Wings to help Rhode Island children build their own libraries at home. Join us by buying and shipping books, dropping off books at one of our collection sites, or hosting a drive.

RI House of Representatives Housing Package

Contact: Michael J. Cerio | michael@ceriocommunications.com | (401) 743-8269 United Way of Rhode Island Statement on RI House of Representatives Housing Package From Cortney Nicolato, President and CEO, United Way of Rhode Island:  “Progress toward addressing Rhode Island’s housing crisis is what our state needs now, and we are grateful to Speaker Shekarchi and the […]


Children’s Book Drive 2023

United Way of Rhode Island's Children's Book Drive is back! From April 1 - May 24, we're teaming up with Women United and Books Are Wings to help Rhode Island children build their own libraries at home. Want to donate books or host a drive with your family, friends, or coworkers? View our Children's Book Drive 2023 drop-off locations and Frequently Asked Questions at the link below.


Power of the Purse

United Way of Rhode Island's Women United invites you to join the fight for childhood literacy at our 8th annual Power of the Purse fundraiser.

Wednesday, May 24 | 5:30 to 8 p.m.Squantum Association, RiversideSpend an evening with dynamic women making a difference in Rhode Island, bidding on designer purses, and enjoying signature cocktails, appetizers, surprise raffles, and a wine wall.Tickets are $100. Don't miss this opportunity to support a good cause.